Taking Pot Shots at N.J.'s Charter School Students

"The charter school law needs to be rewritten in a thoughtful, comprehensive way. It's been more than 20 years since the law was passed...I support the concept of charter schools and have visited many outstanding ones. We need to revise the law...I want to see the hat trick of a new charter school law that addresses funding, authorizing and local control."
That’s Assemblywoman Mila Jasey explaining why she is lobbying for passage of a bill, A 4351, co-sponsored with Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan, that would place a three-year moratorium on charter school expansion.  She suggests that New Jersey’s 20,000 children on charter school waiting lists should rely on her ability to pull off a “hat trick” – a three-way victory on issues that have flummoxed the State Legislature for years. Jasey’s statement follows Newark City Council’s resolution opposing her bill, as well as the formation of a parent-led group called Hands Off Our Future Collective (#handsoffourfuture) which is fighting Jasey and Diegnan’s efforts to derail charter school growth in some of N.J.’s neediest cities.

Not only would A 4351 upend the Education Commissioner’s authority to approve new charters, but it would also interfere with already-established organic charter school growth.  For example, KIPPNJ, which operates highly-regarded charter schools in Newark and Camden, typically adds a grade per year to accommodate students as they move from grade to grade. KIPPNJ CEO Ryan Hill explains in the same article that “if [A 4351] passes, we'll have about 2,300 kids without a school to go to next year."

There’s a sense in which Jasey is on target. N.J.’s charter school law is 20 years old and badly in need of a rewrite. One of the most glaring problems in current law is its single-authorizer model: only the Education Commissioner can approve new charter applications when we should permit some combination of universities, colleges, consortia, non-profits and school boards to approve new charters. Current law also allows no facilities funding, another lapse that needs to be addressed.

However , the third part of her “hat trick” – local control – is a thinly-veiled pretense that would  make the moratorium permanent. Save Our Schools-NJ  and NJEA have been agitating for some time now for both a moratorium and a new charter school  law that would require charter to be approved by local school boards. No other charter school state law in the country gives school boards veto power for a simple reason: this provision would stymie all charter school growth.

So Jasey and Diegnan (whose top campaign donors, by the way, are NJEA) are essentially mounting an attack on all charter school expansion. In fact, Assemblyman Diegnan proposed a new charter school bill  two years ago that requires local approval, a non-starter for the Senate. By way of contrast, the Chair of the Senate Education Committee, Senator Teresa Ruiz, proposed her own (far superior) bill, S 2319, that requires public hearings but no veto power for school boards. Assemblyman Troy Singleton has also proposed a bill that’s closer to Ruiz’s and includes public hearings.

Essentially, Jasey and Diegnan suggest that children and families indefinitely give up their right to choose non-district public charter schools while the Legislature plays dodgeball with their future.. No hat trick here: just craven politicians blithely taking pot shots at N.J.’s neediest families.

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