Legislative Inertia and Charter Schools

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Here’s what’s missing in the Democratic Assembly pile-on regarding NJ’s loss of $14 million in Federal funding to help expand charter schools: the main reason we lost the money is that the Assembly has failed to pass Bill 3083, which would allow Rutgers to authorize charter schools. Right now the only authorizer is our troubled and understaffed DOE.

Look at the comments
from federal reviewers of our application for the cash (and check out NJ Spotlight’s coverage). Reviewers rated the 17 states that applied on six different categories. Twelve states won and five didn’t. Some of NJ’s poorest scores were in “Flexibility Afforded by State Law” and “Authorizer Accountability,” though we also were at the bottom of the heap in “Quality of the Evaluation.”

Example’s of reviewers’ comments cited as weaknesses in our application:

“With only one authorizer, the SEA, the state’s charters do not have authorizing freedom.”

“The SEA is the sole authorizer in the state.”

“The application does not include a description of the oversight processes or appeal processes that the single authorizer implements.”

There was also hearty skepticism expressed from all reviewers regarding our ability to meet the proposed target of opening ten new charters per year with the grant money, given the lack of capacity at the DOE. For additional context, look at the hot-off-the-press report from the Center for Education Reform comparing state charter regulations:

All but one of the nation’s 41 charter laws (New Jersey) permit school boards to authorize charter schools. Those states have opened less than one quarter of the nation’s nearly 4,000 charter schools, while states with multiple authorizers are home to 80 percent of all charter schools. School boards are often unable or unwilling to have fair and impartial processes to vet charter schools, andmany that do approve charter schools create friction between the schooling entities.

(Also see this report from Ball State University, which called our charter funding inequity “severe.”)

Now imagine if the Assembly had actually allowed the bill (passed by the Education Committee by a vote of 4-1) to reach a vote, joining 40 other states in allowing multiple authorizers? While there are certainly other problems with our application, we might have had a shot at the money. So what’s holding up a bill that allows a great university like Rutgers to have a hand in helping us educate kids?

Answer: there’s strong cadre of opponents, including the Education Law Center, Garden State Coalition, Save Our Schools-NJ (based out of Princeton – here’s a letter to the Princeton High School PTO lobbying against the Assembly Bill), NJ Principals and Supervisors Association. (To its credit, NJEA says it supports the bill, although its position paper lists the reasons why charter schools stink.)

The Assembly Democrats’ indignation is misplaced. Look in the mirror, folks. Complain all you want about losing the $14 million and rant against dysfunction at the DOE, but at least acknowledge that a fundamental reason for the loss is your own inability to pass a no-brainer bill.

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1 Comment

  • kallikak, December 2, 2010 @ 5:00 pm Reply

    “No-brainer” indeed!

    Let's anoint a laundry list of certified authorizers to meet and greet the likely wave of charter school hucksters about to descend upon our state.

    Remember that the principal financial backing for most of these start-ups will come from existing local school revenues.

    Nothing like a bunch of enablers with no skin in the game and no accountability to those paying the bills.

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