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GSCS on Charter Schools - Assembly Education Committee Hearing January 24, 2011
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Garden State Coalition of Schools/GSCS
Assembly Education Hearing on Charter School Reform
January 24, 2011


Thank you Chairman Diegnan and members of the Committee. I am Lynne Strickland the Executive Director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools; with me is Elisabeth Ginsburg, Vice President on the GSCS Board and President of the Board of Education of the Glen Ridge schools. Betsy is available to answer questions about Glen Ridge’s research into the potential for one school or an entire district conversion to charter school status.

Today the Garden State Coalition represents 100 districts throughout the state, from Bergen to Camden County. Approximately 300,000 students are represented via theirs schools’ membership in our association. GSCS is appreciative of the Committee’s invitation to join in the conversation with you today on charter school reform.

Our members, primarily suburban, have had growing concerns about charter schools and these concerns have been brought to our board with a growing voice this year.

Recently GSCS endorsed a letter of the Princeton Board of Education and forwarded it to our members for their action (letter is attached to our testimony packet here). “We urge you to pay close attention to the issues surrounding charter school legislation. New Jersey residents hold high expectations for their public schools, invest in education at high rates and are proud of New Jersey’s strong record of excellence in public education. Nonetheless, we recognize that there are examples of failure and that there are great needs which must be addressed. Please take time to learn from other states’ successes and from their failures...While developing policy and legislation, please pay attention to the research. As we eagerly stand accountable for providing the best and most cost effective education possible for ALL children, we implore you to protect what is sound and serving children well as you move forward with legislation that insures equity and excellence for all New Jersey students.”

Charter School Issues – Some problems that need to be addressed in any new legislation;

Establish criteria for proof of educational need of charter schools in each community.
 
In the midst of a recession we cannot afford to divert funds from successful programs in order to fund schools designed for small populations with special wants. Needs and wants are very different bases for the investment of public dollars.

We need to identify the rationale for charters more directly and define for clarity, priority and consensus. What are the ‘needs’?  Certainly the common denominator must be educational performance. What are ‘wants’ and are they appropriate to pursue, especially at this time of great fiscal constraints, as well as when in initial stages of reform overhaul? Community divisiveness should be avoided, not exacerbated, as we are seeing right now in the suburban districts such as East Brunswick, and Princeton; communities where applications are on file should not be surprised as we are also hearing of, such as Highland Park. It bears repeating, we need to identify the rationale for charters more directly and define for clarity, priority and consensus.

Local taxpayers must have a say in charter school funding via a local vote.

 Since 2002, the total funds that local districts transfer to support charter schools has grown from approximately $85M to $316M (see attached).  Given the economies of scale for one, funding does stress regular operating district budgets.

GSCS members, and the majority of regular operating districts in New Jersey fund the majority of their school budgets via local property taxes.

The sums of local budget revenue that is required to be transferred to the local charter schools wind up costing local property taxpayers more (economies of scale, e.g.) yet neither the taxpayers, nor the local school board, have a say in the charter school budgets.

The more the funding depends on local taxpayers, the more the community is pitted against itself. It is important that ‘fairness for all’ interested community members is felt.

Currently ‘economic impact’ must be considered in the authorization process, but how – and by whom - is this currently defined; how might it be better defined in the future?

The ‘how-to’ of charter school funding is ‘messy’ right now and has to be addressed.
 
Today, there are two competing definitions of charter school funding in current law. The Charter School Law has one definition of how charters are funded, and the school funding formula another (see attached). This conflict must be clarified, addressed, debated for future workability of charter school funding support. Only one definition can serve the purpose and enlighten the debate around charter school funding.  Under SFRA, see 18A:36A-12; under Charter School law, see L.1995,c.426,s.12; amended 2000,c.142,s.2.
 
Ad hoc interpretations and discussion thus evolve that waste time and promote misunderstanding. Again, clarity and consensus for how charter schools are funded requires not only an open discussion but one where policymakers have clear, reliable information on which to make the sound decisions for all students and communities alike.

Any discussion about revenue sources and funding for charter schools must to be in the context of school funding as a whole.

There are so many needs pressing New Jersey’s public education funding system these days. Variables and uncertainty impact the school funding picture as a whole. One need cannot be carved out of the frame and addressed without impacting another need. Just consider the state aid reduction last year, and then try deciding how to increase funds to one good need at the cost of another critical need? Or shall we wait for the Supreme Court to set the direction first?

Districts should have a ‘saturation point’ (a ceiling) where the number of charter schools is curbed.

For example, such a curb could occur where a district’s regular operating budget cannot be reduced by a maximum of (x) % due to charter school annual funding transfers; or alternatively, e.g., where enrollment shifts are not consistent with projected enrollment growth in the regular public school or enrollments reach a ‘tipping point’  that will destabilize the regular operating district’s programs.

Common sense balance must be maintained between the regular operating district and charter school in certain circumstances.

East Brunswick unfortunately has a good example of this: full day kindergarten has been on the East Brunswick budget vote more than once and the voters have not passed that initiative; yet the new Hatikvah Charter School has full day kindergarten and in fact advertised the full day program in local supermarkets when soliciting applicants prior to increase its chances for approval.

Charters that are ‘focused’ and/or limited in purpose that target narrow interests can have the potential to open up resegregation of public schools
.
Resegregation is a clear negative and its potential for harm must be protected against.
The final say on charter authorization should rest with the Department of Education.

By its very nature, the Department of Education must have the responsibility of authorizer oversight.

Accountability must be improved at the charter school and traditional school level; the authorizer must have appropriate requirements that include (not necessarily limited to) student performance, teacher evaluation, accounting and business office procedures, that are reflective of the traditional school requirements.

d.Performance contracts deserve consideration in this regard.

Autonomy and accountability can be balanced to protect the student performance, district demographics and adhere to standards of efficiency and effectiveness.
_________________________________________________________________________

ATTACHMENTS: Competing charter school funding laws; Princeton Board of Education letter on charters, Glen Ridge release re: Research into district conversion to Charter Status; Chart on Local District Fund Transfers to Charter Schools 2001-2002 to 2010-2011

I.                     CURRENT CHARTER SCHOOL FUNDING

 
The current language is at 18A:36A-12...
18A:36A-12  Per pupil payments to charter schools.
 
 12. a. (Deleted by amendment, P.L.2007, c.260).
 b. The school district of residence shall pay directly to the charter school for each student enrolled in the charter school who resides in the district an amount equal to 90% of the sum of the budget year equalization aid per pupil and the prebudget year general fund tax levy per pupil inflated by the CPI rate most recent to the calculation.  In addition, the school district of residence shall pay directly to the charter school the security categorical aid attributable to the student and a percentage of the district's special education categorical aid equal to the percentage of the district's special education students enrolled in the charter school and, if applicable, 100% of preschool education aid.  The district of residence shall also pay directly to the charter school any federal funds attributable to the student.
 
 c. (Deleted by amendment, P.L.2007, c.260).
 
 d. Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection b. of this section, in the case of a student who was not included in the district's projected resident enrollment for the school year, the State shall pay 100% of the amount required pursuant to subsection b. of this section for the first year of the student's enrollment in the charter school.
 
 e. The State shall make payments required pursuant to subsection d. of this section directly to the charter school.
 
 
II. DOE WEBSITE (Charter School Law) L.1995,c.426,s.12; amended 2000,c.142,s.2.
 
 
a.        As used in this section:
 
"Maximum T&E amount" means the T&E amount plus the T&E flexible amount for the budget year weighted for kindergarten, elementary, middle school and high school respectively as set forth in section 12 of P.L.1996, c.138 (C.18A:7F-12);
 
"Program budget" means the sum in the prebudget year inflated by the CPI rate published most recent to the budget calculation of core curriculum standards aid; supplemental core curriculum standards aid; stabilization aid, including supplemental stabilization aid and supplemental school tax reduction aid; designated general fund balance; miscellaneous local general fund revenue; and the district's general fund tax levy.
b.        The school district of residence shall pay directly to the charter school for each student enrolled in the charter school who resides in the district an amount equal to the lower of either 90% of the program budget per pupil for the specific grade level in the district or 90% of the maximum T&E amount. The per pupil amount paid to the charter school shall not exceed the program budget per pupil for the specific grade level in the district in which the charter school is located. The district of residence shall also pay directly to the charter school any categorical aid attributable to the student, provided the student is receiving appropriate categorical services, and any federal funds attributable to the student.
 
c.        For any student enrolled in a charter school in which 90% of the program budget per pupil for the specific grade level is greater than 90% of the maximum T&E amount, the State shall pay the difference between the two amounts.
 
d.        Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection b. of this section, in the case of a student who was not included in the district's projected resident enrollment for the school year, the State shall pay 100% of the amount required pursuant to subsection b. of this section for the first year of the student's enrollment in the charter school.
 
e.        The State shall make payments required pursuant to subsections c. and d. of this section directly to the charter school.
 
L.1995,c.426,s.12; amended 2000,c.142,s.2.
 

_________________________________________________________________________
Princeton Board of Education Charter letter: December 2010
To Our Governor, Acting Commissioner of Education and State Legislators
:

We urge you to pay close attention to the issues surrounding charter school legislation. New Jersey residents hold high expectations for their public schools, invest in education at high rates and are proud of New Jersey’s strong record of excellence in public education. Nonetheless, we recognize that there are examples of failure and that there are great needs which must be addressed.
Please take time to learn from other states’ successes and from their failures. In many states, there has not been educational or fiscal accountability on the part of charter schools. Charters’ success rates are mixed and millions of dollars have been poorly invested in some charter schools. While developing policy and legislation, please examine reliable research. A 2010 federal study by Mathematica demonstrated minimal or negative impact of charter schools on the performance of higher income and higher achieving students.

We eagerly stand accountable for providing the best and most cost effective education possible for ALL children, and implore you to protect what is sound and serving children well in New Jersey. As you move forward with legislation that insures equity and excellence for all of our students we specifically request the following:

·         Establish criteria for proof of educational need of charter schools in each community. In the midst of a recession we cannot afford to divert funds from successful programs in order to fund “boutique” schools designed for small and segregated populations with special wants. Needs and wants are very different bases for the investment of public dollars.
·         Use taxpayer dollars wisely and respect taxpayers’ needs and opinions. Taxpayers should vote on approval of their tax dollars being directed to new charters or expansion of current charters. Additionally, taxpayers should vote for members of the charter schools’ boards just as they elect representatives to traditional school boards. THERE SHOULD BE NO TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION.
·         Hold charters to high standards for educational outcomes by collecting performance data that demonstrates their students are out-performing comparable cohorts in traditional schools.
·         Assure the public that all legislation created to insure accountability and oversight of traditional public school districts will also apply to all charters.
·         Do not approve for-profit charter school systems since they are profiting from public funding.
·         Do not sub-contract to other institutions the authority to approve charter applications since it minimizes the State Department of Education’s role, subjugates taxpayer authority and increases costs.
·         Monitor enrollments closely so that we do not further segregate our beautifully diverse and enriching population. One of the backbones of public education is preparing a diverse population of students to together become the understanding, creative and talented thinkers and leaders of the 21st century.
Much is at stake. We ask that as leaders of our fine state you listen and study closely so that wise and balanced decisions are made regarding the education of ALL of our children and the investments of all of our taxpayers.

Sincerely,
The Princeton Regional Board of Education

GLEN RIDGE BOARD OF EDUCATION HOLDS DISCUSSION ON CHARTER SCHOOLS
Local Board Exploring Options for Increased Financial Sustainability and Educational Quality in the Wake of State Aid Loss
                On Monday, July 26, 2010, the Glen Ridge Board of Education used its annual Board Retreat to discuss charter schools and whether the possibility of converting one school or the entire district to charter status would benefit Glen Ridge students and taxpayers.  Discussion participants included Donna Best, Colleen Eskow and Jacqueline Grama, all of the New Jersey Department of Education’s Office of Charter Schools.   
The Retreat topic grew out of discussions between the Board and Glen Ridge residents during budget presentations in the spring of 2010.  With the loss of 100% of the district’s state aid, many residents suggested that the Board investigate options including chartering, privatization and any other measures that would reduce costs to taxpayers, retain local control of the schools and increase educational quality.
                The Retreat took the form of a question and answer session between Board members and the DOE employees.  The following conclusions emerged:
·         Charter schools, which are public schools, are bound by most of the same laws and regulations as “regular” public schools.  They are required to satisfy most of the same state testing and accountability mandates. 
·         Charter schools are governed by their own boards, which are not connected with or responsible to the local Board of Education. 
·         In the case of Glen Ridge, a Board of Education would be necessary, even if the district were converted to charter status.  The Board would have to arrange for the education of any district students not attending the charter school as well as serving as a funding conduit for the charter school.  The charter district’s budget would come either entirely or almost entirely from the local tax levy (depending on the availability of state aid funds) and would amount to 90% of the adequacy budget (determined by the state) for Glen Ridge.  This means that if the district converted to charter status, the charter district would have less money than the current Glen Ridge Public School District.  Charter schools are allowed to raise funds privately and seek grant funding, but cannot include that funding in their charter school applications.
·         Converting an existing district or a single school within the district to charter status would require approval by 51% of the parents and 51% of the faculty, in addition to approval by the DOE.
·         Charter schools/districts do not have to have unionized employees, but many opt to do so.
                In the fall, the Board will devote a portion of a public Board meeting to further discussion of these issues, with time allotted for questions from the public.  Details about this meeting will be provided when a date has been established.  Please forward questions or comments to the Board at eginsburg@glenridge.org.  Further information on charter schools can also be found at The New Jersey Department of Education’s website: http://www.state.nj.us/education/chartsch/


Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608
609-394-2828