Facing a possible state freeze on the expansion of charter schools and state plans to review those that already exist, students, teachers, faculty and others staged a march through the streets last month to highlight future potential threats.
Charter school advocates believe the review may be an excuse to eventually cut back or even do away with character schools in the state.
The march started at BelovEd School on Grant Street and went to the Team Walker Center where state officials were taking public input about the future of charter schools, not just in Jersey City and Hudson County, but throughout the state.
While Bret Schundler, former Jersey City mayor and a consultant to the BelovEd charter school in Jersey City, refused to comment on the political support Gov. Phil Murphy got from NJEA in the 2017 election, other advocates for charter schools believe there is a connection.
As mayor of Jersey City during the 1990s, Schundler has been credited with helping promote charter schools in Jersey City and served as founder of the Golden Door Charter School.
He and other charter school supporters fear the ongoing review of the charter law and inspections at schools including some in Hudson County may be the first step in rolling back the state law establishing charter schools in the 1990s.
While Murphy has not officially declared a moratorium on charter school expansion, no applications for new charter schools have been approved under his administration.
Unlike some other states, where local school districts can approve charter schools, only the state can authorize the opening of new charter schools in New Jersey.
New Jersey has 89 charter schools serving nearly 50,000 students, partly due to an expansion under the Christie administration. Hudson County has charter schools in Hoboken, Jersey City and Kearny.
There has been pressure to convert one or more former Catholic schools in Bayonne into charter schools, but school officials have resisted those efforts.
West New York Mayor Felix Roque said he has been trying to get a military charter school open in his city and hopes he can get one approved in 2019.
Charter schools operate independently of local school districts and receive pass-through funding from the districts where students live. These are generally more affordable than private schools.
Critics –- particularly teachers’ unions which often do not represent teachers in charter schools — claim charter schools often lack oversight and drain resources from traditional public schools. These critics also claim charter schools often provide less quality education.
Statewide, as many as 20 of the charter schools opened under Christie were forced to close due to issues involving academic performance or financing.
But supporters of charter schools claim this attests to the fact that charter schools are accountable.
“If a school isn’t working, people move their kids to other schools,” Schundler said.
State needs to hear from charter school supporters
Harry Lee, of the Hamilton-based NJ Charter School Association, said the review by the administration is also an opportunity for parents, students and teachers to engage the administration and to promote the benefits of charter schools.
The state is conducting a series of town hall-type meetings, the first of which took place in Jersey City on Nov. 1.
The Murphy administration, Lee said, is collecting data in order to review the impact of the mid-1990s law that established charter schools in New Jersey.
“The state intends to release a report sometime in the upcoming months,” Lee said. “Some of this will detail what the state learned on the tour, and it’s critical that it include accurate data on the high quality of education charter schools provide. The state needs to hear these stories.”
Lee said there is a reason why families are moving their kids to charter schools especially in urban areas, and that the state needs to hear this information rather than merely get input from anti-charter school lobbyists.
“We need to dispel myths and talk about the success stories even when charter schools get much less funding,” Lee said.
Jersey City charter schools are among the most underfunded in the state, Lee said.
While the state’s school funding claims charter schools must get 90 cents on every dollar that ordinary public schools get, Jersey City charter schools actually see about 60 cents, Lee said.
“Charter schools are excluded from state aid in many areas,” Lee said. “Charter schools for instance get zero dollars for facilities.”
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