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Five New Charter Schools Get Preliminary OK from State Officials

Two approvals are in Plainfield; proposed all-boys charter in Trenton rejected because state law prohibits enrollment based on race or gender

Department of Education Building

The Christie administration’s trickle of charter-school approvals continued this week, as it announced it had given the preliminary go-ahead to five new schools, including two more serving Plainfield, out of 37 applicants overall.

The five schools approved (with projected enrollments) were:

  • Bridgeton Public Charter School (Bridgeton), K-4th grade, 285 students;

  • College Achieve Central (Plainfield, North Plainfield), K-9th grade, 1,035 students;

  • Cresthaven Academy (Plainfield), K-3rd grade, 300 students;

  • Empowerment Academy (Jersey City), K-4th grade, 576 students;

  • International Academy of Atlantic City (Atlantic City, Pleasantville), K-6th grade, 698 students.

The five preliminary approvals are only a first step. The five schools will all need to pass a second review before they can open in fall of 2015.

Plainfield is becoming a fertile ground for new charters in the state, with the new approvals bringing to six the number of charters in the Union County city. If enrollment projections pan out, the charter schools could ultimately serve one-third of the students in the school district.

The application process included some notable rejections, too, including the state’s denial of an application for an all-boys charter school in Trenton, the Rising Star Preparatory Charter School.

State officials also rejected a residential school proposed for Camden, led by the SEED network out of Washington, D.C. In fact, no new charters were approved for either Camden or Newark, two centers of the charter-school movement on the state.

Acting state Education Commissioner David Hespe said last night that the rejection of the Rising Star application for an all-boys charter school was a difficult call, but that it ran up against state laws and regulations that prohibit charter schools to show any preference in enrollment based on gender, race or any other such characteristics.

While Hespe wasn’t saying the administration will seek to change in law, he also suggested that the state isn’t ready to decide one way or the other.

“We are very interested in testing out new school and instructional strategies, and we are still in interested in pursuing this,” he said. “But we also want to be sure the legal structure supports this.”

While Hespe acknowledged that five approvals is a small number, coming on the heels of only a handful of charter approvals in each of the last few rounds, he discounted the notion that the administration doesn’t support new charters -- and said observers should stay tuned for the coming application rounds, which will be submitted by more established charter organizations.

“The best time to evaluate our record will be after the coming round,” Hespe said.

The state currently has 87 approved charter schools, serving more than 30,000 students.

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