The debate on school choice has been characterized by overblown, rhetorical claims that often are at variance with available evidence. This must change. Policy makers cannot afford to make such important decisions on the basis of rhetoric.

The 2002 decision of the United States Supreme Court in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, upholding the school voucher program implemented in the Cleveland Public School District, brought school choice to the forefront of educational issues. Policy makers in New Jersey and other states are being pressed to consider what choice options, if any, should be offered to students and their parents. Their decisions could fundamentally alter the manner in which state provide and finance their educational programs, and could have other major policy implications as well. Given the potential consequences, it is essential that policy makers be informed by the best possible legal and educational policy research, and by the best expert opinion on education practices and student outcomes.

The Institute's project, "Setting the Stage for Informed, Objective Deliberation on School Choice," is designed to establish a framework and a forum for informed and objective consideration of the legal, fiscal and educational policy issues relating to school choice. The project is based on the premise that informed discussion of all the relevant issues is necessary, but not that any particular choice program is certain to be established or expanded in the near future, in this state or elsewhere, and not to advocate for any particular conclusion. The goal is to make a meaningful contribution to the quality of the school choice debate.

Background Paper. The project was launched in November 2002 with an invitational meeting of state and national experts on school choice issues. IELP distributed a background paper, What We Know, and What We Need to Know, about School Choice, for that meeting.

Tough Choices. The first publication of the project, issued in 2004, was Tough Choices: Setting the Stage for Informed, Objective Deliberation on School Choice. Tough Choices sets the state by surveying choice programs in New Jersey and other state and raising several issues that form the backdrop for discussion:

New Jersey, Abbott v. Burke, and School Choice
The School Choice Debate
Evidence of Impacts on School Choice
Redefining "Public Education"

It then discusses the tough choices that have to be made in relation to school choice policy:

Should choice play a larger role in our effort to improve education?
Should New Jersey's public school choice programs be expanded?
Should New Jersey provide public subsidies for students to enroll in private schools?
What accountability measures should be imposed on school choice programs?
Should New Jersey regulate home schooling?
Should New Jersey authorize, encourage, or regulate cyberschools?

Finally, it identifies what we need to know with recommendations for research:

Comprehensive Evaluations of New Jersey's Choice Programs
Analysis of Private School Choice
Examination of Compulsory Education Requirements and Enforcement

Additional Reports. Tough Choices will be updated in a forthcoming volume with an overview of school choice issues for 2005, a 50-state survey of state laws on school choice, bibliographies and other resources. And it will be supplemented with additional reports on selected school choice issues:

New Jersey, Abbott v. Burke and School Choice
New Jersey's School Choice Programs
School Choice Policy in New Jersey under No Child Left Behind

Setting the Stage for Informed, Objective Deliberation. IELP sponsors and conducts meetings and discussions of school choice issues; its staff participates in conferences and meetings sponsored by other organizations, in New Jersey and throughout the nation, to discuss school choice issues in our state and elsewhere; and it serves as an objective resource for education policy makers.

For more information about IELP's school choice activities, or to schedule a meeting or conference with your organization to discuss school choice, contact us at

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This project builds on the research and analysis presented in Tough Choices, but here IELP directs its attention to public school choice issues of particular interest to the State of New Jersey.

While Tough Choices looks at choice in its broadest sense – vouchers, magnet schools, charter schools and interdistrict choice as well as home schooling and cyberschooling --A Closer Look at Public School Choice in New Jersey focuses on public school choice. The premise is the same as in Tough Choices – that choice should be considered in the specific context of New Jersey’s education policy and the state’s urban education reform effort. The objective is the same -- to help forge a rational, comprehensive state policy on public school choice that takes into account the array of available and potentially available options, seeks to meld them into a coherent, consistent system, provides appropriate levels of support for choice, strikes a balance between encouraging innovation and maintaining accountability, and assures effective implementation. And the methodology is largely the same -- New Jersey’s education policies and programs, and their implementation, will be evaluated against national best practices.

A Closer Look at Public School Choice in New Jersey will culminate in two reports. The first, New Jersey’s Interdistrict Public School Choice Program: Program Evaluation and Policy Analysis, is now available. The second, New Jersey’s Charter Schools: Program Evaluation and Policy Analysis, will be available in early 2007.

Both reports will be distributed to policy makers and the public, and IELP will consult with the Commissioner of Education and state legislators on the issues, findings and recommendations in the reports, with the goal of contributing to a rational, comprehensive state policy on school choice.

For more information about A Closer Look at Public School Choice in New Jersey, contact us at

New Jersey's Interdistrict Public School Choice Program: Program Evaluation and Policy Analysis (11/7/2006)