Charter School Leftovers

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On Monday the Assembly Education Committee will consider a bill sponsored by Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan that would require new charter schools to campaign for voter approval in order to receive authorization to proceed. The bill, if it passes through the Legislature, would effectively kill off the nascent charter school movement in New Jersey. (See yesterday’s posts for more background.)

Advocates for the bill include New Jersey School Boards Association, Save Our Schools-NJ, and Education Law Center, although ELC’s approach is more balanced and analytical.

Interestingly, the group that would reap the most benefits from the bill is silent. That’s NJEA, NJ’s teacher union. While the lobbying group cautiously offer support for a limited role for charter schools, these autonomous public schools are antithetical to much of NJEA’s agenda. Non-unionized teachers mean less dues for coffers and more precedent for anathematic reforms like restrictions on tenure, elimination of LIFO (last in, first out), longer school days and years, and merit pay.

NJEA’s parent organization, NEA, is not so silent. An NEA Policy Brief lists as a condition that “local school boards should have the authority to grant or deny charter applications; the process should be open to the public.”

And, not irrelevantly, NJEA is one of Assemblyman Diegnan’s top campaign contributors.

Clearly the pro-charter forces are worried about Monday’s Education Committee session. Here’s a compelling editorial from Carlos Perez, CEO of the NJ Charter School Association. And NJCSA is asking supporters of charter schools to contact legislators. A sample letter notes,

Requiring a referendum on every charter school application will unnecessarily politicize what is already a very difficult, time-consuming, emotional, and expensive approval process. Charter school applicants would be forced to operate and fund a political campaign, expending scarce resources intended for children. The current process under which charter schools are authorized provides ample opportunity for public input and involvement. New Jersey would become the only state in the nation to utilize a referendum and would effectively be a step back.

One more item, and then I promise I’m off the charter beat, at least til Monday. One of Education Law Center’s proposals for improvements to NJ’s charter school law is that local traditional districts should be obliged to hand over the full amount of per pupil student funding:

Charters should receive the full 100% per pupil funding for the “base cost” set in the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA), rather than the 90% they currently receive, plus any additional funding generated by the SFRA “weights” for at-risk, ELL and special education students actually served by the charter.

I took ELC’s proposal at face value yesterday. But I would be remiss to not note that the combination of a requirement for voter approval and the elimination of any cash for local districts is an effective deathknell for charter school expansion.

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