NJ Board of Education Considers Changes to Charter School Regulations

By Michael Hill

It’s a truth the Christie administration likes to tout.

“In our four state-operated districts, more charter school students than students in district schools met or exceeded grade-level expectations,” said Katherine Czehut, director of the Office of Charter and Renaissance Schools for the New Jersey Department of Education.

Results that embolden the Christie administration to propose relaxing state certification rules for the 31 best-performing charter schools, a plan laid out before the state Board of Education again.

“As Kate said, to offer charter schools increased autonomy for increased accountability. We are holding schools accountable,” said Colleen Eskow, director of government affairs for the New Jersey Department of Education.

Another piece of the governor’s focus on charter schools is expansion, but outside the board meeting critics called it encroaching on the mission and funding of public schools.

“We do not understand why the commissioner of education and not the people of Princeton decide whether a charter will open or expand in our town. Charter schools are paid for by our property taxes. Why can’t we decide how those dollars should be spent?” asked Princeton parent Dina Shaw.

“As a budget manager, rapid expansion of charter seats could be something insurmountable for us,” said Franklin Township Schools Superintendent John Ravally.

“He has not been a friend to all of the children in New Jersey. He has been a friend to the charter movement and he has been a governor to the charter parents and population, but we all matter,” said Newark NAACP President Deborah Smith-Gregory.

“What was less obvious to many of us was that even within school districts with large percentages of Latinos, African-Americans and working poor families, charter schools are being used to create enclaves of segregation,” said Latino Coalition Director Frank Argote-Freyre.

Within earshot, a parent who’s come to Trenton to testify and an official from North Star Charter in Newark.

“It is hard to understand the claims of segregation in a place like Newark where the majority of kids are black and Latino and low income and there are thousands of families choosing a high quality charter school in Newark. Who could be against that?” said Uncommon Schools Chief External Officer Barbara Martinez.

“I have a lot of people that think that they can take away my right to send my children to the school that I choose and I just dislike it,” said North Star Academy Charter School parent Crystal Williams Wortham.

Votes on the governor’s regulatory changes for charter schools are on course for this year, his last year as governor.