For one Newark charter school not in session, the clock is ticking

With gym equipment and other housewares strewn about, the scene outside the METS Charter School in Newark looks a lot like a post-June clean out except it’s early September.

The struggling charter failed to open on time for the 2019-2020 school year, and now its students are being bussed out to various community centers throughout the state. While the school is asking for parents’ patience and understanding as the situation is dealt with, the president of Newark’s teachers union is calling for an investigation, claiming a lack of oversight for charter schools is an ongoing issue in the state.

The school, which operates out of Jersey City with a satellite high school in Newark, has a long history with violations from the state Department of Education, being put on probation in 2013. This current situation is adding fuel to a larger debate about the difficulty of finding public data for charter schools and the governing structure of such institutions. The DOE is now in the midst of a review to the New Jersey Charter School Law, enacted 23 years ago.

“For whatever reason there is a cloak of secretiveness around the back story of charter schools around. Like, what’s going on behind the scenes,” said Deborah Smith-Gregory, president of NAACP-Newark.

New Jersey is home to 88 publicly funded, privately operated schools, with roughly 35% of them in Newark. Proponents, on the other hand, point to statewide data reflecting their success.

“In 2018, low income charter school students outperformed their statewide peers by double digits in English language arts and by 9 percentage points in mathematics,” said Harry Lee of the NJ Charter School Association.

The funding structure for charter schools has also been called into question, with advocates and officials on both sides of the issue expressing dissatisfaction with the current framework. Facilities funding appears to be a factor in METS delayed opening, as the property owner told NJTV News that years of mismanagement caused renovation needs that prevented students from returning to school right away.

All sides are awaiting the DOE’s report, as it reviews the system and Charter School Law, with an end goal of equity for every child.