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Op-Ed: Let’s Help Charter Schools Continue to Thrive

As the Department of Education carries out a review of New Jersey’s charter schools, it should note the tremendous public support for them. It’s time for officials to match that support

Harold Lee
Harold Lee

Fifty thousand New Jersey families have chosen a public charter school option for their children. These families are experiencing unprecedented academic achievements, even in urban areas like Newark where charter school students outperformed the statewide average.

Eight weeks ago, the Commissioner of Education announced that the state would begin a process of reviewing New Jersey’s charter schools. Charter school families turned out in force to participate in the Department of Education’s review process. More than 1,000 public charter school parents, teachers, and supporters turned out to charter review events in Newark, Paterson, Trenton, Jersey City, Atlantic City, Camden, and Plainfield.

In many of these public meetings, the support for charter schools literally spilled out into the streets. On October 16, during the first community meeting in Paterson, more than 200 charter parents and supporters turned out and had to line up in the hallways to provide input to the DOE about why they love their charter schools. On November 1, more than 350 Jersey City charter school parents, students, educators and supporters marched from BelovED community charter school to the Jerry Walker Center to raise their voices for fair funding for charter schools in Jersey City.

If the DOE was hoping to answer the question of whether public charter schools have popular support across New Jersey, I hope that we can consider that question answered with a resounding “yes.” Now, the question should pivot to what else New Jersey leaders can do to allow these great public schools to thrive.

Changes that would help charter schools

To answer that question, the New Jersey Charter Schools Association released a report, entitled “Charter Schools in New Jersey: A Landscape Report.” In the report, we call on the state to implement four changes that would level the playing field for public charter schools and allow them to truly thrive. Here are the recommendations:

  • First, provide charter school students with fair funding. Currently, charter schools only receive about 73 cents on the dollar in local and state aid compared to traditional public schools. Revising the funding formula will ensure charter school students receive the same funding as traditional public school students, including funding for facilities.

  • Second, increase charter school access to under-utilized school buildings. As public entities, charter schools should be allowed a right of first refusal to acquire or lease under-utilized public school facilities or property at no cost.

  • Third, increase charter school autonomy. Successful charter school operators deserve the flexibility that comes with their increased accountability. This will allow schools to innovate in more ways that help children.

  • Fourth, reward high-performing charter schools. High-performing charter schools should be allowed to apply for renewals of up to ten years, based on their performance and track record.

Working toward these four commonsense changes would prove the administration’s commitment to allowing great public schools to thrive, regardless of the name above their door. On behalf of the thousands of families and teachers who have taken action to support their schools during this review process, we look forward to working with the department to make this a reality.

Harold Lee is the interim president of the New Jersey Charter Schools Association.

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