NJ's Charter School Wars

Princeton International Academy Charter School (PIACS), which has been fighting for approval of its Mandarin-immersion school, has filed suit against Princeton, West Windsor/Plainsboro, and South Brunswick school districts, claiming that the traditional districts are waging “a guerrilla war financed by public dollars.” According to a press release issued this week,
the school districts have vigorously opposed the efforts of PIACS and diverted tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars intended for the education of school children to pay for consultants and lawyers to oppose efforts to secure a facility in South Brunswick, the site of the planned school. While parental interest in the school is high, the school districts have disseminated false and inflammatory statements about the charter school to the community and have pledged to use any available means to prevent PIACS from opening, all at taxpayer expense.
In other words, these traditional public school districts are funding litigation against PIACS through taxpayer dollars that would otherwise go to instruction or other educational purposes. Much of the leadership of this anti-charter movement comes through the auspices of a group called Save Our Schools-NJ, and clearly it's got traction in these tony neighborhoods. It's understandable: Princeton currently shells out $4,368,915 (according to DOE data) to Princeton Charter School, which educates 344 of Princeton's K-8th graders.

(The DOE database also says that there are 3,281 kids on Princeton Charter School's waiting list, which is just about all of Princeton Public Schools' enrollment. Maybe Princeton Public Schools, the birthplace of SOS-NJ, is just getting ready for the proposed bill, backed by SOS-NJ, which would require that any charter school submit every child's name to a lottery, regardless of parent interest. Nothing like getting ahead of the game.)

The suit gets to the heart of a piece of the fiery NJ debate about charter schools: should these nontraditional public schools be restricted to towns with lousy schools, or should charter schools be available to all students, even in high-achieving districts? Part of the debate has more to do with job protection rather than education. SOS-NJ is, after all, an affiliate of Parents Across America, which is (stay with us here) funded by NEA, the national teacher union. No big surprise there. Charter schools are permitted to hire non-unionized teachers, so NEA and its NJ affiliate NJEA have a vested interest in quashing NJ's charter school movement.

According to Planet Princeton, the superintendents of West Windsor/Plainsboro, Princeton, and South Brunswick issued a joint statement:
“As pertains to this particular petition, the boards are composed of 9 or 10 members, each of whom was elected by the voters, the superintendents’ statement reads. ” It is ironic that a private group of unelected and unaccountable individuals has initiated legal proceedings challenging the right of the boards to make decisions which the boards firmly believe are in the best interests of the districts and the taxpayers.”
It's an interesting strategy on the part of PIACS: should taxpayers have to foot the bill for attempts by school boards and districts to stymy charter school growth? Should litigation of this sort be subject to a voter referendum, just like SOS-NJ would like to require for the establishment of a new charter school? Stay tuned.