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Attention Parents: A Primer on School Choice

by Mickey Brandt

Five of Cumberland County’s public school districts have been approved for years as part of New Jersey’s Interdistrict Public School Choice Program. Districts in Vineland; Downe, Maurice River, and Lawrence townships; and Cumberland Regional High School can enroll students who do not reside within their districts—without cost to their parents.

Applications for students to enroll in the 2024–25 school year will be available the first week in September and they are due back December 1. Choice programs fill up rapidly. (See box on page 18 for how to get started.)

School Choice is not well-known and has notable limitations, but many families have participated, and the results have been important to students.

According to the NJ Department of Education (NJDOE) website, the initiative increases educational opportunities for students and their families by providing students with school options outside of their district of residence and giving parents the power to select a school program that best serves their child’s individual needs.

Public School Choice benefits students and parents, as well as the choice districts. Choice programs might have smaller class sizes, increased instructional time, and a school culture more conducive to a student’s success in school. Many choice districts have established specialized and innovative programs and courses that focus on areas such as the arts, math, and technology, and are open to students who meet the eligibility requirements of the special programs. Opening enrollment to students outside the district can bring in more students interested in taking advantage of these special programs and courses, allowing both the programs and students to grow and flourish.

The Cumberland Regional School District is generally known as one of the best choice options in its sole school—Cumberland Regional High School. It has been a choice school for about 10 years.

It’s a specific agricultural program, which focuses on the sciences of agriculture and agricultural-related occupations. The courses recognize and teach the career opportunities and the agri-science skills required for different occupations.

Emphasis is placed on permanent job employment or continuation of agricultural studies in college.

The agriculture students are enrolled into the intra-curricular student organization known as the FFA, a national organization for agricultural education students. FFA makes a positive difference in the lives of students by developing potential for premier leadership, personal growth, and career success through agricultural education.

Students in the agriculture education program will also take part in a supervised agriculture experience project with an emphasis on entrepreneurship, job placement (paid and non-paid), or research as there are many specialized areas of agricultural education. This program follows the CASE curriculum.

It is projected that the program will have about 47 available seats in the 24-25 year. (These represent the number of choice seniors who graduate in June.)

The NJDOE limits the number of choice seats that each district can fill. When applying, the “maximum number of new choice students that can be enrolled” tells parents how many new choice students the district can enroll in the next school year. If more than the maximum number of applications is received, a lottery will be held and a waitlist will be developed.

Three of the smaller Cumberland County districts accept choice students in all grades, K-8, until the allotted seats are taken. Each of these districts consist of a single elementary school.

Maurice River Township had a maximum of eight choice students for this school year, 2023-24.

The district is a sending district to the Millville School District for high school. It is in a rural, somewhat geographically isolated patch of Cumberland County surrounded by state-owned or protected, environmentally sensitive land. It has been designated as a “New Jersey School to Watch” by the NJDOE. Students may apply upon graduation to the agricultural program at nearby Cumberland Regional School District.

As with all of these smaller schools, the eight seats opening up reflect the graduating eighth graders moving on to high school. The other seats are filled by current students.

The nearby Downe Township School is also a small, rural, community school located near the Delaware Bay in Cumberland County. With one classroom per grade level, its students benefit from individual attention and differentiated instruction to meet the needs of all learners. It boasts outstanding teachers who are dedicated to the education of the children. Downe offers basic skills instruction, music, technology, physical education, and Spanish. It also offers free after-school care provided by Kids’ Center, a community-based program in the school for over 25 years.

Four seats were available in the district in 2023-24.

The third of these excellent choice schools in Cumberland County is the Myron L. Powell Elementary School, in the Lawrence Township School District. It offers a comprehensive academic curriculum that seeks to integrate technology, social-emotional learning, and leadership opportunities into and across all curricular areas. The local curriculum encourages each student to strive to meet or exceed state standards, but is flexible enough to take into consideration the unique learning style and interests of each individual student.

Special events, field trips, assemblies, and service projects take place throughout the year to complement and enrich the curriculum. The Board of Education is committed to the concept of educating the whole child and to that end, provides extensive after-school activities including clubs, traveling sports teams, and non-traveling intramurals. In addition, all students are given the opportunity to display their talents by participating in multiple performance opportunities such as concerts and art shows.

For the year 2013-04, the district had 18 openings.

The fifth county school district in the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program is Vineland. Because of the apparent strength and popularity of its Interdistrict Public School Choice program across all grades including high school, there are no openings for the 2024-05 school year.

Susan Senlick, confidential secretary in the Maurice River district is the contact person for the choice program there, which has existed since 2009. She summed up the general feeling of all five districts when she said, “The program is great, I wish I had more seats available; there’s always such a long waiting list.”

To Begin the Process:

Visit Find a Choice District for information on the choice districts, including their contact information at Contact the choice district directly to request their application or download it from the district’s website. All choice applications must be submitted directly to the choice districts.

Each district has its own choice application. Where choice options are available, any student who resides in New Jersey is eligible to apply.

District participation in the program is optional but requires application to the Department of Education.

Once approved, the choice district designates the available seats in specific grades and programs that are open to choice students.

There are 119 participating choice districts in the 2024-25 school year. The application deadline for 2024-25 enrollment in a choice district is December 1, 2023.

Contact Us:

New Jersey Department of Education
Interdistrict Public School Choice Program
P.O. Box 500
Trenton, New Jersey 08625-0500

Districts Give Enrollment Preference to:

  • Applicants who have a sibling currently attending the choice district, provided there are choice seats available in the choice-approved grades/programs and the students meet any program-specific criteria.
  • Applicants who have completed the terminal grade of the sending district (i.e., students who attend a choice district with grades that terminate before 12th grade and have a natural progression to this choice district), provided there are choice seats available in the choice-approved grades/programs and the students meet any program-specific criteria.
  • Resident students who move before the application deadline. If resident students move and file choice applications for the following year prior to the deadline, the district will give them enrollment preference (i.e., accept them after the enrollment preference students described in b. and c. above, but ahead of other applicants), provided there are choice seats available in the choice-approved grades/programs and the students meet any program-specific criteria. If the district has already reached its approved choice enrollment maximum, this preference will not apply.
  • The districts give special consideration to resident students who move after the application deadline. Students in this situation may apply as late applicants and be added to the front of the district’s waitlist, provided the students will enroll in a choice-approved grade/program and they meet any program-specific criteria. No additional choice seats above the maximum will be approved by the NJDOE to accommodate these students.