While Gov. Chris Christie has proclaimed his support of charter schools, a segment of New Jersey’s charter school community is waging a persistent battle over whether they are being supported enough.
A group of charter schools in Jersey City has been in a legal battle with the state for the better part of two years, contending in a formal complaint that they have been shortchanged in public funding, leaving some on the brink of extinction.
An administrative law judge last month sided with the state against the plaintiffs, leaving the next step in the hands of state Education Commissioner David Hespe.
But the legal battle is hardly over, and the dispute spilled over this week with a public protest in front of the Statehouse, where dozens of families and advocates from Jersey City charters gathered to rally for their cause.
The case revolves around an anomaly in the state funding for charter schools in Jersey City. The main issue is that the district’s charter schools, some of them among the most established in the state, have been left out of what has been a major source of revenue to the district.
The charter schools have argued that they should be receiving a full 90 percent of the district’s per-pupil costs for the students they serve, as dictated by the state law.
Instead, they have said, some schools receive the equivalent of as little as 40 percent or 50 percent of per-pupil costs, as the state law precludes them from tapping into hundreds of millions of dollars in so-called transition or adjustment aid to the district.
One of the leading voices has been the Ethical Community Charter School, which took part in the protests this week in Trenton.
During a press conference Monday, a compelling voice came from fourth-grader Louis Correro, who said the funding disparity has left his school without sufficient money to have a fully-stocked library or the ability to retain teachers who can earn a better salary elsewhere.
“Sadly, our school has never received full funding,” he said. “What if it was your child, your schools who were being treated differently?
Correro went on to describe how Ethical Community Charter School has received the equivalent of $6,900 per pupil, compared to overall total of over $15,000 spent in the district.
“I ask you, how is our school valued so much less that the district schools?” he said.
Afterward, the chair of the charter school’s board said the administration, for all its purported support of charter schools statewide, has left her school short.
“It’s mind-boggling to me to how they have not rectified this situation.” said Ann Wallace, chair of the school’s board. “And now it’s only getting worse.“
The state Department of Education has been quiet so far, with Hespe’s office this week saying it would not comment on pending litigation.