Tuesday, July 5, 2011

NJ Channels NH in Charter School Laws

There’s two good pieces on charter schools in the papers today: John Mooney in NJ Spotlight looks at the tiny charter school office at the DOE, charged with approving or rejecting applicants who aspire to start these autonomous public schools. And the Asbury Park Press examines the current battle between Save Our Schools-NJ, which is lobbying hard for a new charter school bill that would subject every new charter to a community vote, and charter school advocates like Carlos Perez of the NJ Charter School Association, who view these new bills as both redundant and a thinly-veiled attempt to curtail charter school growth. Explains Perez,
“If a charter school doesn’t have enough enrollment, it can’t open its doors,” he said. “Charter schools are created to fill a void in the traditional public school curriculum. They’re established to meet some specific need — a more diverse math program, more sophisticated science courses, cultural and language immersion, environment-centered studies — that is not being met by other schools in the district. If a significant number of parents don’t think a void exists, the local effort to form a school would go nowhere.”
The Asbury Park Press piece notes that among the 39 states in the country that have charter schools, only one – New Hampshire – requires a public vote for a new charter school approval. That requirement is part of the reason that New Hampshire received a “D” from the Center for Education Reform for its charter school laws. NH's total public school enrollment is 194,022. Out of almost 200,000 students, only 816 attend charter schools. From the Nashua Telegraph:
Despite the movement up the list over the past year, New Hampshire remains one of nine states that “severely constrains charter school growth,” according to Todd Ziebarth, lead author of the report “Measuring Up to the Model: A Ranking of State Public Charter School Laws.” The report analyzed the country’s 41 state charter school laws and scored how well it believed they allowed for quality and growth.

“New Hampshire’s law needs significant improvements in several areas, most immediately removing the pilot nature of the program,” Ziebarth wrote. “The state also needs to ensure equitable operational and categorical funding, provide equitable access to capital funding and facilities, and provide additional authorizing options for charter applicants.”
If our role model for effective charter school laws is New Hampshire, maybe we ought to aim a little higher.


kallikak said...

"Charter schools are created to fill a void in the traditional public school curriculum."

Maybe in your world, Carlos, but for the rest of us, charters provide test labs for new/improved methodologies that will be incorporated in to the public schools when validated.

Charters should not be a parallel and competing system of more-selective public schools whose main impact is to defund their host districts.

Julia said...

Actually, one-third of all states with charter schools require local approval for new schools. New Hampshire does it via a local vote but 11 other states do it via local school boards. The bill that passed the NJ Assembly includes both mechanisms, depending on whether a school district has an elected or an appointed school board.

The other two-thirds of states with charter laws either cap the number of new charter schools allowed or only expect districts to pay for those charter schools that they have approved locally. If the state or a nonprofit charter school authorizer approves a new charter school in those states, they have to pay for the operation of that school.

Only New Jersey has no limit on the number of new charter schools, completely disenfranchises local communities from the charter authorizing process, yet expects those local communities to pay for the operation of new charter schools. This is wrong!

What if an administration came to power that wanted to destroy public education by approving every new charter school application? How many of our existing public school districts could survive having five new charter schools open in their midst?

The local control provision enables the voters of a school district to approve one or even ten charter schools, if that is their communal desire. The current law, however, forces a community to be victim to the wishes of a handful of residents and gives unchecked power to the State's Department of Education. The NJ charter school law is broken!

PS: New Hampshire has an excellent public school system. If the state's residents are happy with that school system and do not want to approve many new charter schools, why should they be required to do so? There is no inherent benefit to charter schools. The fact that the charter school lobby wants more of them is not a compelling argument for overriding the wishes of the voters.

Julia said...

The lack of local control is only one of the problems with New Jersey’s charter school law. The law also fails to require charter schools to be educationally and financially accountable and transparent and lacks any requirement that charter schools demographically represent their school districts. As a result, New Jersey charter schools educate many fewer special needs, limited English proficiency and very poor students than the surrounding traditional public schools. This not only further segregates our children, it also leaves the traditional public schools with a concentration of the most expensive to educate students but with many fewer dollars with which to do so.

The Charter School Association initially had been supportive of a bill that recently passed the Assembly (A3356) with overwhelming support, which would address all three of these shortcomings in the current law. More recently, however, the Association has pulled back from supporting greater transparency, accountability and demographic representation, preferring instead to push for individual contracts between charter schools and the Department of Education. It is very disappointing that the Association decided to promote such a corporatist, back-room approach versus continuing their prior commitment to transparency, accountability and demographic representation. The members of Save Our Schools NJ hope that the Association will reconsider this position.