The big education reform news in New Jersey yesterday was the release of an Appellate Court ruling in litigation pressed by Education Law Center and Save Our Schools-NJ. The two anti-charter groups challenged the right of established charter schools to expand within their districts of residence. They lost the appeal.
You wouldn’t know it, though, from the press release issued by ELC late yesterday, which claimed that Judges Fuentes, Ashrafi, and Kennedy issued “important clarifications” that will force “the Attorney General to disclose, for the first time, data showing that the amendment process has been used to significantly expand the number of charter schools in the state.”
From the press release:
“This case has brought to light the ‘under the radar’ process used by NJDOE to allow existing charters to open a significant number of new schools. More importantly, the Appellate Court has made clear its expectation that NJDOE will subject amendments to expand existing charters to rigorous review to ensure educational equity for all students, whether in district or charter schools,” said Elizabeth Athos, the ELC Senior Attorney who handled the appeal.
“This ruling also makes clear the need for the Legislature to take up long overdue reforms to bring more accountability and transparency to the charter program, and to enact safeguards to ensure charter schools operate effectively and contribute to the improvement of public education for all students in the communities they serve,” Ms. Athos added.
What did the Appellate Court actually say regarding ELC and SOS-NJ’s claim (SOS filed an amicus brief) that the State Board acted in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner in permitting successful charters in Abbott districts to expand in order to accommodate growing demand? (Emphases my own.)
- “We conclude the regulations are a valid exercise of the State Board’s administrative authority.”
- “We conclude that the State Board had the statutory authority to amend and repeal its regulations as it did, and that the speculative policy arguments advanced by Save Our Schools may be better addressed to the Legislature or to individual charter school expansions than as a facial attack on the amended regulations. We affirm the State Board’s action in adopting and repealing the challenged regulations.”
- “The Legislature did not expressly authorize satellite campuses, but it also did not expressly prohibit them.”
- “A broad reading of N.J.S.A. 18A:36A-16(e) as ELC urges would contravene the legislative purpose of encouraging innovative educational methodology through the charter school program. Making a more concrete argument, ELC contends that the Act did not authorize expansion of an existing charter school beyond its initially-approved physical building. ELC contends the term “charter school” means “one building” because the historic meaning of “school” is a single building. We are not persuaded.”
- “A school is more than a building.”
- “ELC expresses unfounded fear that the Commissioner will approve “far flung” satellite campuses without adequate evaluation of the proposed building, the demographics of the area, the school program, and the school staff.”
- SOS’s argument “is speculative and not borne out by any facts.”
Today’s appellate division ruling validates our understanding of the breadth of the state DOE’s authority in regulating public charter school growth and the department’s intention to support public education choice for New Jersey families. This lawsuit was yet another attempt to stop the growth of innovation and preserve the status quo which continues to fail our state’s public school students. Defending this authority, and validating it through the judicial process, will allow charter schools to grow and serve families that are looking for great educational opportunities.