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Governor Lauds Charter Schools But Funding Doesn’t Match Rhetoric

Direct state aid to charter schools is actually reduced by $2.8 million in proposed budget for FY 2017

Credit: Martin Griff

Gov. Chris Christie praised charter schools in his budget address last week, but that support has yet to be reflected in the actual budget numbers.

The governor singled out charter schools for improving the quality of education, especially in urban centers. And he promised them more help.

“We’re going to continue investing in our incredibly successful charter schools system,” he said. “The number of students attending charter schools has nearly doubled during the course of my administration, and we’ve seen charter schools having a huge impact in allowing students to achieve their full potential and turn around education results for at risk communities.”

At the very least, he said, funding for charter schools would remain level this year.

“For fiscal year 2017, funding will be provided to support charter school aid to ensure per student funding for charter schools remains steady,” he said.

But the budget itself actually reduces direct aid to charter schools by $2.8 million while federal aid remains flat, according to the administration’s budget summary.

There is only so much to be read into that, admittedly, as direct state aid and federal aid cover a small fraction of the overall costs of charter schools.

Still, the administration has been silent on the topic of aid to charter schools, and charter leaders have not responded to requests for their reaction. State education officials haven’t done much talking either, declining comment when asked specifically about the charter funding.

One exception that could ease at least some of the pressure is $25.9 million in new aid earmarked to districts that host charter schools, led by more than $22 million to Newark, which is home to by far the most charters in the state.

How much of that money will reach the charters themselves is unclear, but if nothing else, it may calm the tensions in that city over charters’ growing presence.

Much also hinges on the administration’s coming release of its Educational Adequacy Report, which was expected last week but is still pending.

That report details how the administration will determine per-pupil aid allotments for public-school districts and, in turn, for the charters they are required to fund at 90 percent. A reduction in those allotments for those public-school districts would mean less for the charters.

This year and last year, the administration allocated some additional funds for charters to hold them at least steady, but it is unclear if that will remain.

In the meantime, Christie repeated in his budget address that he would press for his administration to help charters in other ways through loosening some of the rules and regulations.

“At my direction the Department of Education has begun to take steps to aggressively slash regulation for New Jersey charter schools and give them the tools they need to serve even more students in even greater ways,” he said.

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