Advocates call for state education department to end review and expand charters

Leah Mishkin, Correspondent | December 5, 2018 | Education

As the State Board of Education meeting ended inside, a group of people stood outside, in the cold, holding signs to show support for charter schools.

“When our students consistently score 4s and 5s on College Board AP exams, achieve 100 percent high school graduation rate, 100 percent college acceptance rate, we’re doing something right,” said Bergen Arts and Science Charter School principal Dawn Fantasia.

New Jersey Charter Schools Association interim president Harry Lee says right now 50,000 students attend charter schools in New Jersey, and there are over 35,000 other students on waitlists.

“The current law should be amended to allow charter schools to be granted up to 10 year renewals based on performance,” said Lee.

In October, Department of Education officials announced they would be evaluating charter schools across the state. The review process is now coming to a close.

“The commissioner has been very available and accessible through this process. He did visit 11 charter schools in this process and was able to see firsthand the incredible work that is happening in charter schools,” said Lee.

The New Jersey Charter Schools Association released a report Wednesday identifying several steps it would like to see the state take, like increasing access to underutilized school buildings.

“For example if a district loses enrollment, and a charter school needs a building, there should be a mechanism in place for that charter school to get access to that building,” Lee said.

The report also recommends the state increase charter school autonomy and give fair funding.

“Currently, charter schools are receiving 73 cents on the dollar compared to traditional public schools,” he said.

The NJEA director of communications says before any changes are made the board needs to consider how it will impact all New Jersey students, writing in a statement, “We should not be looking at ways to lower standards or reduce accountability for any type of school, including charter schools … with regards to funding it is critically important we do not pit students against students in a fight for resources.”

“I believe in parent choice. There should be no district school versus charter school,” said parent Shayvonne Anderson.

“There’s a divide because there are many funding challenges. Money follows the child to the charter school as it should in terms of state and local funds,” Lee said.

Back outside the State Board of Education meeting, Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet came outside and thanked the group for coming. He took the roughly 2,500 postcards that charter school parents wrote on saying why they love their schools.