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10-14-11 In the News - Senate Education Committee Charter School hearing yesterday
Njspotlight.com - Charter Anxiety: A Suburban Malady?...As backlash grows in the suburbs, the reaction in the cities is more complicated

Star Ledger - N.J. Senator wants to update state laws to make charter schools more accountable

New Jersey Newsroom - More N.J. charter school oversight pushed by lawmaker

Njspotlight.com - Charter Anxiety: A Suburban Malady?...As backlash grows in the suburbs, the reaction in the cities is more complicated

Star Ledger - N.J. Senator wants to update state laws to make charter schools more accountable

New Jersey Newsroom - More N.J. charter school oversight pushed by lawmaker

 

 

Njspotlight.com - Charter Anxiety: A Suburban Malady?...As backlash grows in the suburbs, the reaction in the cities is more complicated

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By John Mooney, October 14 in Education|Post a Comment

A Senate hearing yesterday on charter schools brought out many of the same familiar faces, led by a growing cadre of parents from suburban communities like Princeton, Highland Park, East Brunswick, and a new one to the list, Cherry Hill.

While more than half of all of New Jersey's charter schools operate in its poorest cities, there was nobody from places like Paterson, Trenton, and Camden. They weren't entirely without representation, to be sure, as various advocates stepped up to speak, but New Jersey's fierce debate over charter schools has had a distinctly suburban feel of late.

That raises the question: where are the cities in what some have called the growing backlash against charters in New Jersey? What are the reactions there?

Interviews with an array of players and observers on hand yesterday found there is not one answer to those questions, just as there is not one set of circumstance for any city, let alone every school.

For some, charters in their 15 years in New Jersey have settled into a complementary role in places like Newark and Jersey City, where few argue the traditional schools could use some help.

Thomas Dunn Jr., a lobbyist for the state's superintendents association, recalled that when he was superintendent in Elizabeth he raised objections to a charter school application there.

"But clearly when you are a high-needs district and the needs of a number of students are not being fully met, it may be counterproductive to oppose additional opportunities for them," he said.

Yet others said the same tensions underlie the coexistence of charters and public schools in the cities. They're just not voiced with slogans at Senate hearings or suburban rallies. Recent turmoil in Newark over charters and districts schools sharing space brought hundreds out to voice opinions, if not outrage.

"It's not that we don't hear the concerns," said Sharon Krengel, policy and outreach coordinator for the Education Law Center in Newark. "With more charter schools in places like Newark, we actually hear more."

Suburban Backlash

Still, the recent debate over charter schools in the state has been largely framed as suburban backlash, and for good reason.

Vocal opposition to charter schools -- or at least the law that authorizes them -- has been almost entirely from suburban districts, including in legal appeals and formal letters of objection filed with the state Department of Education as part of the charter application process.

For example, before the Christie administration's recent approval of Regis Academy Charter School in Cherry Hill, the Camden County township's school board and mayor wrote letters of objection to the state, as did school officials in neighboring Voorhees, which would also be served.

The objections are many, but the common theme in these districts is both philosophical and financial. For one, they contend that their district schools do well, and there is no need for the alternative that a charter school offers. For another, there is the cost. In Cherry Hill, for instance, it would cost the district $1.9 million a year to fund the charter, officials said, or roughly the cost of 30 teachers.

Another half-dozen Cherry Hill residents wrote in their objections as well, and now that the school has been approved, Cherry Hill school officials say they will file a formal appeal.

But next door in Camden, there was a two-page letter from the district about the application of a new charter school there, including questions as to if it would offer preschool. And in Trenton and Jersey City, where new charter schools were also announced, there was no local input at all.

Newark as a district rarely, if ever, formally contests a charter school in its midst, despite the reality that close to one in seven Newark schoolchildren now attend charters. The fact that Newark is a state-controlled district -- as are Jersey City and Paterson -- may play a role in that. And the ongoing tensions over that state control likely fueled some of the community turmoil over charters earlier this year.

Clearly, the argument that urban schools don’t need the alternative carries less weight. And in some of these cities, especially Newark and Jersey City, charter schools have proven to be among highest-achieving schools overall.

State Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Mercer), who sits on the Senate education committee that held the hearing yesterday, said she rarely hears complaints from her constituents in Trenton about the growth of charters there, even as some of the charters have been forced to close.

"I don't think they have a problem with it so much," she said. "They can't argue about the quality of their schools. Look at the test scores, and they say well, if there is an alternative and another way to help our students, let's buy it."

Grassroots Organizations

But there are other factors at play, too, she and others said. Clearly, the opposition is better organized in the suburbs, and much of that organizing comes out of the Save Our Schools NJ, a group with Central Jersey roots that has been critical of the state's charter school law as giving no voice to the communities that host the schools. SOS NJ has left few public forums about charter schools unattended, and often has members sitting on the panels themselves.

"We have members in the cities," said Julia Sass Rubin, a Rutgers professor who is one of the more public faces of a group that has no official leaders. "We're not monolithic at all. We have members in every city, and not just one or two."

But she acknowledged that the movement appears strongest in suburban communities, where parents may have more time and resources to come out for hearings or rallies like those held this summer.

"Unfortunately, fewer in the cities can do this," she said.

But Rubin and others said the incentives are different as well. The financial pressures on suburban districts have in some ways been more acute of late than in urban districts.

When a charter school moves in, it can cost hundreds of thousands – if not millions -- of dollars that must come largely from local taxpayers. For typically large urban districts, that funding can be more easily be absorbed and is often largely borne by the state.

And smaller suburban districts with higher-performing schools that are a source of pride -- not to mention real estate value -- have a sense there is more to lose if a charter school moves in and draws significant funds from the district schools, some said.

"It's the schools that attract these parents," Turner said after the hearing. "But then when you get there, you see your property taxes rise and your kids start to get shortchanged in class size and extra-curricular activities cut back, then they get angry."

 

Star Ledger - N.J. Senator wants to update state laws to make charter schools more accountable

Published: Thursday, October 13, 2011, 6:51 PM

By Jessica Calefati/The Star-LedgerThe Star-Ledger

TRENTON — The state law governing the approval and operation of charter schools is more than 15 years old, and state Sen. Teresa Ruiz said today she is determined to update the outdated legislation.

Ruiz (D-Essex) said she plans to introduce a new charter school bill in the coming months that would boost accountability for the publicly funded, independently run schools and expand the number of state entities that can authorize the schools to operate. Her comments came after a meeting of the Senate Education Committee, which heard testimony today on the best ways to revamp the old law.

"This is not an issue of pro-charter and anti-charter," Ruiz said. "This is about access to quality and ensuring that regardless of what school building you’re in that you get the most optimal school day there is."

Two bills that would expand charter school accountability and allow some state colleges and universities to authorize new schools passed the state Assembly and await action by the Senate. Another bill would give voters the right to approve new charter schools before they open in unwelcoming communities.

Charter schools have been divisive issue in New Jersey since Gov. Chris Christie began pushing for more charters, especially in poor-performing districts. Late last month, the state approved four of nearly 60 applicants hoping to start new charter schools.

Renita Thukral, senior director of legal affairs for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said New Jersey’s current charter school law is mediocre at best compared to other states. Judged against a "model" charter school law drafted by the Alliance, New Jersey’s law ranks 26th out of 41 states with charter schools, she said.

"States have the best chance of creating a high-performing public charter school sector if they take a comprehensive approach to charter school law reforms exemplified in our model law," Thukral said

 

 

New Jersey Newsroom - More N.J. charter school oversight pushed by lawmaker

Thursday, 13 October 2011 17:12

Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex) Thursday urged the state Senate to pass several measures she is sponsoring that would create more accountability and oversight in the creation and operation of charter schools in New Jersey.

The legislation (A-3356 and A-3852), which provide what the Assemblywoman describes as a sensible approach to Gov. Chris Christie’s effort to expand the number of charter schools in the state. The bills were approved by the Assembly in June and discussed by the Senate Education Committee Thursday.

Jasey is an advocate for requiring voter approval before charter schools can be opened in a school district because taxpayer money helps supports the schools.

“School budgets account for more than half of local taxpayer dollars, and I strongly believe that voters should have the opportunity, indeed the right, to decide if they want a charter school located in their school district,” Jasey told the Education Committee. “By definition, proposed charter schools will result in a diversion of funds from the traditional public schools whose budgets have already been cut to the bone due to ever increasing costs and the 2 percent cap.

“I believe that charter schools play an important role as incubators of innovation, and should be collaborating with our traditional public schools to share best practices,” Jasey added. “However, in these challenging economic times, as our school districts struggle financially to provide all of our students with the excellent education to which they are entitled, a proliferation of charter schools competing for scarce dollars is fraught with problems for all the students of a school district.”

One bill (A-3852), requires final voter approval at the annual school election or by the board of school estimate before the establishment of a charter school. The proposal has five co-sponsors: Assembly Education Chairman Patrick Diegnan, Jr. (D-Middlesex), and Assemblymen Peter Barnes III (D-Middlesex), John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), Ralph Caputo (D-Essex), and Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer). The bill was approved in the Assembly by a vote of 47-17 with 14 abstentions.

The other bill (A-3356), would create what is described as greater accountability and transparency of charter schools and their operations. Assemblyman Albert Coutinho (D-Essex) is a co-sponsor. The measure was approved in the Assembly by a vote of 72-6.

“Careful review should be given to enrollment practices and monitoring,” Jasey said. “Conversation about all of these issues is critical, but this is also a time for action, and I would urge the committee to post this bill so that the Senate can make its voice heard on this measure, as well as the referendum bill,” Jasey concluded in her testimony.

—TOM HESTER SR., NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM

 


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