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Agenda: Charter Schools and Special Education Rules Move Forward

State board to take decisive votes on controversial regulations for private special education schools and charter schools

Date: Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Time: 10 a.m.

Where: New Jersey Department of Education, 1st-floor conference room, 100 River View Plaza, Trenton

Key votes: After months of deliberations, the State Board of Education will take up two of its most contentious issues of the new year: charter schools and private special education schools. Both have proposals for new regulations up for preliminary approval, not a final vote but one that would take major objections to reverse before final approval. The state board will also hear presentations from the Jersey City school leaders, their annual report as the oldest of the four state-controlled districts.

Board membership continues in flux: The makeup of the state board continues to be a point of conjecture, as Gov. Chris Christie added some new appointments and questions remain about the status of his previous ones. The latest is the appointment of Joseph Ricca, a former East Hanover superintendent, to replace outgoing member Peter Simon. Meanwhile, Christie has again moved to replace board president Mark Biedron with the appointment of Nina Washington. He initially appointed her in December, then withdrew the nomination, and then resubmitted it this month. Still, the Senate has yet to confirm any of the nominations, with none of the confirmations yet to be scheduled before its judiciary committee.

Charter school rules: The state board is ready for the key vote of the new charter regulations proposed by the Christie administration, which aim to loosen some restrictions. First pledged by Christie in his State of the State address last year, the new regulations aim to address areas that the charter schools have claimed hinder their success. The most contentious are ones that would allow charter schools to hire uncertified teachers and principals, and another that would give them more freedom in using district buildings. But the new regulations have faced fierce criticism from advocates complaining they go too far, and there has hardly been universal support on the board itself.

Private school rules: In this case tightening the rules, the Christie administration has proposed to add new restrictions on what private special education schools can charge as tuition to districts for students sent to them, placing new caps on allowable salaries and other expenses. The schools and their families have pushed back, claiming it will harm the education offered to their children. More families are expected to turn out on Wednesday. The board has been less divided, and approval appears likely.

Jersey City up next: Jersey City was the nation’s first school system taken over by a state in 1988, and it remains under at least partial control almost 30 years later. As such, district leaders will come before the state board to give their annual report on Wednesday.

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