Repollet Hits ‘Pause’ for Charter Schools, Rejects Latest Two Hopefuls

Education commissioner turns down new charter schools for Trenton and Jersey City, as Murphy administration readies major review of the sector

Commissioner of Education Lamont Repollet
No big surprise, Gov. Phil Murphy’s promise of a “timeout” on new charter schools is coming to fruition, with the Murphy administration rejecting two more charter schools that had been hoping to open next year.

State Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet on Friday informed the last two finalists in the current cycle — which would have opened next year, if successful — that their applications had been denied.

It was the first time in at least a decade that the state has rejected every charter school bid in a cycle, and this time without even interviewing the applicants, according to charter-school advocates.

With five other expansions also rejected last spring, just one new charter is now slated to open next year.

Repollet, in letters to the latest applicants, did not give a reason for the rejections, saying a summary of the “comprehensive review” was forthcoming. The commissioner’s office did not comment further beyond confirming the letters.

Governor wants to take a hard look

Gov. Phil Murphy has long prescribed a pause in the growth of charters and taking a hard look at the state’s 20-year-old charter-school law and the procedures for how schools are permitted or denied. Although no details of that review have been announced, his administration has begun reaching out to groups on all sides of the debate for their input.

In the meantime, charter-school advocates were not pleased at this latest development. “With more than 35,000 students on charter school waiting lists, it’s clear families, particularly in low-income communities of color, are desperately seeking additional public school choices,” said Harold Lee, the interim president of the NJCSA said in a statement.

Is this a ‘stealth moratorium’?

“The fact that all 13 charter school applicants were rejected without any of them even making it to the interview round is extremely disappointing,” the statement continued. “These decisions have a profound impact on families in our most vulnerable communities, and we sincerely hope that these rejections aren’t indicative of a stealth moratorium being pushed by outside, anti-charter school special interests.”

The last two finalists were eliminated out of an initial pool of 13 schools. They were the Capital City Charter School, a proposed K-5 school in Trenton, and the Jersey City Montessori Charter School, a K-6 school.

In a letter to both schools’ leaders, Repollet said charter schools did have a place in the state’s menu of public education.

“The charter schools initiative in New Jersey represents an exciting opportunity for parents, teachers and others to use their collective creativity in designing new and innovative ways of helping children reach high levels of academic achievement,” Repollet wrote.

“The Department is committed to developing a strong pipeline of charter schools in New Jersey and providing a high-quality education for New Jersey students.”