NJ Charter School Aperitif

One tiny piece of charter legislation passed the Senate yesterday: Bill S1858, which allows parochial schools to convert to public charters, with the condition that applicants remove all religious references and instruction. Here’s a press release from Assembly Democrats and a Spotlight analysis. The NJ Catholic Conference has refused to support the bill, but one of the bill’s sponsors, Senator Ray Lesniak, says that some currently parochial schools in Camden may grab the lifeline, and that’s good enough.

Why the disdain from the Catholic Conference? Because some regard this legislation as a milquetoast version of the Opportunity Scholarship Act (which would give corporate-sponsored scholarships to poor kids to use for private or parochial schools), a way for legislators to bray, “I care about kids! I get the urgency! I feel your pain!” (cue Clintonesque lower lip under front teeth) without pissing off the lobbyists invested in the demise of OSA.

I’m with the senior senator from Union County: if this conversion bill rescues a few kids in Camden, then it’s well worth the passage. Nice job, legislators. (It only passed 25-13. What’s up with that?) While it's not enough, it's a nice start.

Now, please, can we talk about multiple authorizers for charter schools? That’s a major impediment to a functional charter school environment – both in terms of authorization and accountability. Also worth noting: NJ's practice of relegating all charter authorizing authority to the DOE renders our state charter laws inferior to other states and is the reason we keep losing out on federal aid for charter schools, including $15 million just this past summer. Let’s get to the red meat.

Need convincing? Check out this white paper from Education Sector (written by Sara Mead and Andrew Rotherham) on best practices in charter school legislation. The first one listed is
High quality “professional” authorizers that are committed to charter school quality, have authorizing as a core mission, have sufficient resources to carry out that mission, and oversee a significant number of schools.
In NJ, that’s Assembly Bill 3083. Let’s hope our Legislature gets it done.

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