NJ Charter Schools Assoc. President Doesn’t Expect School Closures to Be a Trend

The state Department of Education has approved six new charter schools for the upcoming academic year, but it has also announced the closing of five others. New Jersey Charter Schools Association President and CEO Carlos Perez told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that the schools that are closing hadn’t been performing well and demonstrate the rigorous process the state has implemented regarding charter schools. He said he doesn’t believe charter school closings will become a trend, however.

Perez said state officials are evaluating charter schools based on how they perform for students. “If they’re not producing, those schools are being shut down. On the positive side, they’re making sure that every school can prove in their pre-application stage that the schools are ready to serve the needs of kids on that very first day of school,” he said.

According to Perez, many of the charter schools that have been shut down had been open for several years and began under previous administrations. “This rigorous process is new. It’s really been implemented over the last two years. And it’s really raising the level of accountability of schools that’s focusing on student outcomes and school performance,” he said. “So I think it’s a matter of strengthening that and so that now schools can have, and for the charter community, we really have a rigorous process on both ends — the approval side and on the renewal side.”

Newark Mayor Cory Booker has said public schools in the U.S. create an “educational apartheid,” where children born in certain areas do not get an equal education to others. Perez said charter schools are working to close the achievement gap and most are located in urban communities to serve kids most in need.

“Ninety percent of the kids come from urban environments. A lot of them are free and reduced lunch students. And the fact that charter schools are working to close the achievement gap between the highest performing kids and the lowest performing kids is something that we should be commending and making sure that all kids have that opportunity for a great education,” Perez said.

Perez said traditional public schools can learn from the charter model, which allows educators to make decisions in the classroom. “In other words, they’re taking the politics out of education,” he explained. “And the more that we can do that in public education, I think the stronger we all are.”

While some may think that means charter school proponents and members of teachers unions will always be at odds, Perez doesn’t think that will be the case. “I think any adult and lots of adult organizations, teachers union included, if all of us want to get together and work in the best interest of kids, that can happen no matter who you are,” he said.

Perez said members of his organization have had positive conversations with the New Jersey Education Association, but added that there’s room for improvement and growth.

Although five charter schools are closing this year, Perez said he doesn’t believe that will be a trend. “If you look at the history of the last several years, we never had this many closures in one year. I think you’re gonna see actually fewer schools being closed in the future, mainly because a lot of the under-performing schools have already been closed,” he explained.

Geographically, Perez said the growth potential for charter schools is where it has been traditionally — in urban areas. “We had 20,000 kids on wait lists and those mainly come from our urban centers — Jersey City, Newark, Camden, Paterson, Trenton. That’s where we’ve been and that’s where we expect to see again the meeting the demands of those 20,000 kids will most likely come from those communities as well,” he said.