EDUCATION

What is the future of charter schools in New Jersey?

BY Leah Mishkin, Correspondent |

People of all ages marched on the streets of Trenton to support charter schools. They worry Gov. Phil Murphy may shut down or stop the growth of them across the state.

“We just want him to know what charters are doing and the role they’re playing in the community. They serve a great need. They are so valuable. Our kids benefit from them everyday,” said Tia Biasi, the mother of fourth and seventh grade charter school students in Jersey City.

Rutgers professor Dr. Julia Sass Rubin says a series of reports she worked on a few years ago highlight that charter school success doesn’t necessarily apply to all students.

“They had fewer children who qualified for free and reduced priced lunch, many fewer students who were limited in English proficient and fewer children with special needs,” Rubin said.

Rubin says new data reconfirms those findings in two of the categories — English proficiency and special needs.

“What has changed, however, is that the sector has grown quite a bit, even just in the last three years, and yet we’re not seeing a change in the patterns of enrollment,” said Rubin.

“We basically have a conflict with most of her data because I think it’s done through a lens where they’re cherry picking the data to present the conclusions they want to present. The data that we get comes from the Department of Education,” said Nicole Cole, president and CEO of the New Jersey Charter Schools Association.

“Everybody brings their own facts to the table depending on which side of the argument. I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” said Murphy.

Murphy says he wants to do it right.

“I’ve never been, nor will I be ‘hell no’ on charters. I just don’t like the way we’ve done it,” continued the governor. “Let’s get one common set of facts and make sensible decisions. If a school is a high performing school, and kids are doing really well based on an objective set of facts, count me as all in.”

Under the Murphy administration, the state DOE has granted approval of one new charter school which would open in 2019-2020, if it receives final approval. But the DOE. has recently denied five requests by existing charter schools to expand.

“There are 35,000 children on a waiting list to get into a charter school, so that means that the demand is there and it’s not being met,” said Katlin Stansfield, program manager for Better Education Institute.

An official with the Department of Education said in a statement it “will initiate a comprehensive review of the Charter School Program Act. That review will include input from stakeholders throughout the state.”

“The law originally, its intent was to have innovative, experimental, instructional programs that would then be shared with the public schools in that district. I’m not sure that has occurred mostly anywhere in the state,” said Marie Blistan, president of the New Jersey Education Association.

Blistan says that while she believes in the concept of charter schools, she wants to see the law reviewed.

“They are not held accountable to quality continuum standards that we have in this state, and that’s very important because that covers the instruction that the children receive. It covers the resource they receive,” Blistan said.

Cole disagrees.

“Once you look at it, you’ll see how rigorous it is. You’ll see the high stakes standards that we’re held up to, and we like those standards because it serves us to better educate kids. If traditional school districts had those standards, we might actually see some school districts close,” she said.

As a crowd marched in support of their schools outside of the State House, there was a sign of hope for them inside the building. At a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting, the acting education commissioner said he had not heard anything about a moratorium, just direction for a comprehensive review.