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4-10-14 Education in the News
NJ Spotlight - Appeals Panel Rebuffs Foes of Online Instruction in Two Charter Schools...Teachers union, citing concerns over unregulated teaching methods, vows appeal to state Supreme Court

Philadelphia Inquirer - Expanding LEAP Academy creates cradle-to-college fund

NJ Spotlight - Appeals Panel Rebuffs Foes of Online Instruction in Two Charter Schools

John Mooney | April 10, 2014

Teachers union, citing concerns over unregulated teaching methods, vows appeal to state Supreme Court


Online learning in New Jersey’s charter schools got a boost from the courts yesterday, but so did the debate over how much innovation the state should allow.

In a long-awaited decision, a state appellate court yesterday strongly rejected a challenge by the New Jersey Education Association, the teachers union, against the state’s 2012 approval of two Newark charter schools that rely heavily on online instruction.

Related Links

In the Matter of the Grant of a Charter to Merit Prep and Newark Prep

NJ Teachers Union Moves to Block Charters

The NJEA maintained that the state’s nearly 20-year-old charter-school law did not explicitly allow for the use of “blended learning” instruction that combines face-to-face classes with heavy use of online programs.

But the unanimous decision by the three-member panel said the state’s charter school law gave the state’s education commissioner broad authority to approve non-traditional teaching.

“We find no merit in NJEA's argument that the absence of an express reference to online teaching in the Act and its legislative history suggests the Legislature would not permit that form of teaching,” read the court’s decision.

“The Act does not make reference to any specific teaching method,” the opinion read. “If online teaching methods are prohibited because they are not expressly mentioned, then it follows that all novel teaching methods not prescribed by the Act are prohibited.”

The NJEA immediately announced that it would appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court.

“We have always taken the position that unless the Legislature grants specific authority with respect to charter schools, that authority does not exist,” said a statement from NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer. “The court has apparently taken the view that absent legislation prohibiting virtual instruction in blended charters, it is permissible.”

Nonetheless, the decision was a strong rebuttal of the NJEA’s argument and clears the way not just for the two schools in question, Newark Preparatory School and Merit Preparatory School, to continue operations in Newark, but also for potential expansion of online instruction.

And that potential expansion may come sooner than expected, as a second school connected with for-profit K12 Inc., which operates Newark Prep, was proposed for Elizabeth in the latest round of charter applications received last week. The decision follows a state Supreme Court decision last year that also deferred to the state in deciding on charter schools -- in that case, the rejection of a proposed school in Montclair.

Critics said yesterday that the appeals court decision illustrates the continued need to address the issue of online instruction. Several pending bills propose revisions of the state’s charter school law, but none of them as yet have included provisions for online learning.

The decision doesn’t touch upon the question of whether the state can allow entirely online or so-called virtual schools. The Christie administration has so far balked at allowing such schools, in part questioning whether they are allowed under existing law.

"This decision highlights the need to reform New Jersey's charter school law so that it reflects the will of the people and legislative intent versus having the courts deferring to whatever the Commissioner of Education wants to do,” said Julia Sass Rubin, a founding member of Save Our Schools NJ, a grassroots group critical of the state’s charter policies.

“Clearly, hybrid-virtual charter schools were not part of legislative intent when the charter law was written, almost 20 years ago,” she said.

She and others said that outside organizations like K12 continue to seek inroads in New Jersey through its lax charter law.

The decision “does point up need to reform charter law to catch up to creative ways out of state and national charter operators are using the law to expand to compete and replace district schools, which was not the intent of the legislature when enacted in 1995,” said David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, the Newark-based advocacy group.

Efforts yesterday to contact K12 Inc. were unsuccessful, and both the founder of Merit Prep and the state Department of Education declined further comment on the decision.


Philadelphia Inquirer - Expanding LEAP Academy creates cradle-to-college fund

Julia Terruso, Inquirer Staff Writer

Posted: Thursday, April 10, 2014, 1:07 AM

CAMDEN Camden's largest charter network again is expanding its footprint: After purchasing a 1920s skyscraper for additional classroom space, it now is establishing an endowment for early-childhood education and college readiness, to the tune of $3 million.

LEAP Academy University Charter purchased the nine-story Wilson Building in January and, on Tuesday, secured a bond not to exceed $10 million to complete renovations in the space, built for office and retail tenants.

On Wednesday, officials gathered again, this time to celebrate receiving a $1.5 million matching grant.

The donation from the John E. Morgan Foundation will go toward the Early Learning Research Academy, a research unit at Rutgers-Camden that provides early-childhood education to 126 infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.

Federal funding for early-childhood education kicks in at age 3, which LEAP founder Gloria Bonilla-Santiago said was too late.

"Every piece of research I've done shows social, emotional, cognitive issues all have to be attended to before 3 years old, and there's no funding 0-3."

Bonilla-Santiago's cradle-to-college model begins with the ELRA and continues through high school. The campus serves 1,400 children and will expand to the Wilson building in the fall.

The wait-list for the ELRA is 500 students. "I could open two more centers," Bonilla-Santiago said, "if I had the money."

The school has five years to match the $1.5 million from the foundation, which previously gave a $100,000 anonymous donation.

The foundation's namesake, John E. Morgan, was a manufacturer who, in the late 1950s, invented the waffle stitch used in long underwear and blankets. Until his death at age 89 in 2001, he was a generous donor to education and health care - causes his foundation continues to champion.

Last year, Bonilla-Santiago launched the Alfredo Santiago Scholarship in honor of her late husband, which promised college tuition to Rutgers University for students who graduated from LEAP and were accepted into the school.

According to the charter, 100 percent of graduates have attended college in the 10 years there have been graduating classes.

LEAP alumnus Omar Samaniego, a sophomore at Rutgers-Camden, attended the news conference and commended the charter.

"They are denouncing the argument that our inner-city children can't compete with suburban neighbors," he said.

In Camden, the number of charter and Renaissance schools - hybrid district-charter schools - is increasing, draining funds from the district budget, which faces a $75 million gap this year. Transfer funds from the district budget have increased from $55 million this year to a projected $72 million next school year.

One in four city students now attends a charter school. Meanwhile, 23 of the 26 public schools have been categorized by the state as failing.

The city has said three Renaissance schools would open in the fall, despite receiving approval from the state for only one of them.

Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard has said he wanted to create a universal enrollment system and catalog so parents could keep track of additions to the school landscape and enter one lottery system, instead of individual school lotteries.

Bonilla-Santiago called such a system premature.

"The point of universal enrollment is to provide choice to parents. We believe that's wonderful if your schools are good and you can provide wonderful choices. But what choice do we have here? There's no choice when you're giving me a list of failing schools," she said. "The priority should be to fix the schools, strengthen them, or else you're presenting a fallacy, and you're going to have parents who are very upset."

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