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And Then There Was One: Administration Approves Single Charter School

Most growth comes from schools expanding and adding seats under current charters

Department of Education Building

For all the debate over their growth in certain cities, New Jersey charter schools statewide continue to see just a trickle of new approvals from the Christie administration.

The state Department of Education yesterday announced it had approved just one new charter school for next fall, a Philip’s Academy in Paterson. It was the only one to pass muster for next year out of nearly two-dozen initial applications -- and the eight that made it to final stage of the review process.

The new K-8 school will replicate the original Philip’s Academy Charter School in Newark, which was the state’s first charter conversion from a private school. The plan is to ultimately have three K-8 schools in Paterson, feeding into a single high school.

Two other schools were approved last year to open next fall after a planning year: Hudson Arts and Science Charter School and Cresthaven Academy Charter School in Plainfield.

In addition, the department is deep into the next round of applications from established providers, and last week it advanced three out of six applicants to the final round.

Among them was the Brick Avon Academy in Newark, an innovative district school whose leaders have said it would better function as a charter due to the budget and other freedoms it allows. If approved as the new Achievement Community Charter School, it would be New Jersey’s first time that a district school moves to become a charter school.

The other two approved to advance to Phase II were the proposed LEAD Charter School in Newark and the proposed Union Arts and Science Charter School, part of the Bergen Arts and Science network.

Plans for a sister facility, the Essex Arts and Science Charter School, were not approved; two College Achieve Charter Schools for New Brunswick and Asbury Park were also held back.

The situation is a far cry from when Gov. Chris Christie came into office, approving more than 20 charters in his first year. Thirty-nine have been approved since 2010, but that was before the public backlash to the rapid growth. These days administration is equally likely to promote the 17 schools it has closed.

Some growth is less obvious: Several larger charter networks have continued to expand and add seats. The advent of the hybrid “renaissance schools” model in Camden has brought plans for a huge expansion of charters there.

The state now has 89 approved charters; the number of separate schools is as high as 120 by some counts.

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