Today’s Star-Ledger includes an editorial by Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan, who lays out the case for his proposed charter school law. The signpost of his ideas about stricter oversight is the requirement that no charter school be authorized to begin operations until the local community approves the authorization through a public referendum.
In the editorial Assembly Diegnan uses the example of Adelaide L. Sanford Charter School in Newark. A recent expose by the Star-Ledger revealed that school founder, Fredrica Bey, pocketed funding meant for kids and used it for personal gain. Also, the school’s academic is mediocre: according to the DOE’s new Performance Reports, the kids in the K-7 school are on par with children in comparable peer groups but “significantly lag” compared to kids across the state.
Assemblyman Diegnan says that if his proposal were law, Adelaide L. Sanford Charter School would not have “succumb[ed] to mismanagement, questionable operational practices and a subpar academic record, among other problems, that led the state to announce last month the school would be closing for good.” In fact, continues Diegnan, “Had the right controls been in place, these infractions could have been prevented and maybe parents wouldn’t have to scramble to find another school for their children next school year.”
It’s true. Under Diegnan’s law, Adelaide Sanford wouldn’t have been able to open because his law would require “ayes” from a majority of residents, an insurmountable task for any organization that would benefit only a tiny fraction of Newark’s children.
There are 39,000 kids enrolled in Newark Public Schools. At its largest, Sanford enrolled 300 kids in grades K-7. How many parents would come out to the polls to vote for a school when the odds of their children’s attendance are so slim?
That’s the problem with Diegnan’s law. He knows that such a provision would stop all charter school expansion in NJ, and he knows (or I assume he does) that no other state in the country has such a law for exactly that reason.
It’s terrible that the school was run by a corrupt leader who allegedly pocketed money intended for kids. It’s terrible anytime this happens, whether it’s at Adelaide Sanford or Toms River Public Schools or Hamilton Public Schoolsor Elizabeth Public Schools or Lakewood Public Schools, which are all non-charter. Will stricter accountability regulations diminish opportunities for corruption? Maybe. Should traditional schools with worse academic performance than Adelaide Sanford close down? Maybe. But that’s not the purpose of the bill. As the Assemlyman explains, the purpose is to curtail the “explosive growth” of charter school expansion in NJ.
There are about 85 approved charter schools in NJ among NJ’s 2,500 traditional schools. There are about 30,000 charter school students in NJ among NJ’s 2.3 million students. (Twenty thousand more kids are on waiting lists for charters.)
Explosive growth? Not so much.
There are good points in Diegnan’s bill. The suggestion of an non-binding oversight committee is interesting, used to good effect in other states. Stricter oversight for all schools — charter and traditional — may have a useful place in NJ’s governance of public education (although one could argue that between the Common Core and the attendant assessments we’re drowning in accountability).
As written, however, the bill is a one-shot political arrow sheathed in a legislative apparatus. Shut down “explosive charter school growth.” That’s a political agenda, not an educational one.