State Auditor Issues Report Critical of How NJ Oversees Charter Schools

John Mooney | May 25, 2012 | Education
Approval, review of schools found lacking; DOE says problems have been resolved and sends warning letters to schools with low achievement

The Christie administration’s oversight of charter schools has long been a point of contention, and a new report out of the State Auditor is sure to fuel the debate on how tough the administration has been in holding the alternative schools accountable for their successes and failures.

The State Auditor, a branch of the state Legislature, yesterday issued a report critical of how the administration has overseen more than 70 charter schools in the state.

Meanwhile, the administration itself released new warning letters to a handful of charter schools putting them on notice for low achievement among its students, among other issues.

The new report by the State Auditor points out a host of problems dating back two years in how the state Department of Education has reviewed and approved new charter schools.

The report released late yesterday found the state’s Department of Education’s charter school office had been lax in its review of not just new charter applications, but also its renewal for existing charter schools. It said it had failed to account for more than a dozen schools where achievement levels were well below those of their district counterparts.

“Specific polices and procedures that provide a basis of decision making and help with the identification of successful or failing schools need to be developed immediately,” said the report from the auditor’s office.

It’s an exchange not soon to be resolved between an administration intent on expanding charter school options and critics who maintain the charter schools are doing no better than the traditional schools they’re meant to provide an alternative to.

A spokesman for the Department of Education said many of issues raised by the report have since been resolved with the reorganization of the charter office and development of new procedures for monitoring the schools.

He pointed out a series of get-tough measures taken in recent months. Most notable had been the closure of three charter schools announced by the state in the past month. The department also announced this week that another two charter schools had been placed on probation: the Liberty Academy Charter School in Jersey City, and Freedom Academy Charter School in Camden.

“Because this report looks at a charter application round nearly 18 months ago, both its findings and recommendations are out of date,” said Justin Barra, the department’s communications director.

“Since that time, the department has continued to improve an already high-quality review process,” Barra said in a statement. “The Christie administration is strongly committed to expanding the number of high-quality charter school options, especially for our neediest students, while holding all public schools accountable for results.”