NJEA testified before the State Board of Education on Wednesday, June 6 regarding harmful proposed changes in how public charter schools operate in New Jersey. NJEA continues to support strong, accountable public charter schools which work alongside traditional public schools to provide a great public education for New Jersey’s students. However, as recent charter school proposals make clear, the Christie administration is attempting to move New Jersey’s public charter schools away from real accountability to the communities in which they operate and to give outside, for-profit charter school management companies much greater power.
NJEA was joined in opposition to the proposed changes by the New Jersey School Boards Association, the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association and more than three dozen school officials, teachers, parents and education advocates.
Under the administration’s plan to take decision-making power away from local communities and give it to the Governor’s political appointees, charter school operators would no longer need to have any connection at all to the communities and the public school systems in which they operate. Existing charter schools, at the direction of the Commissioner of Education, could open satellite campuses in other districts across the state, regardless of whether the operators of the charter have any connection to or experience in those communities. No one in the affected communities would have any say over whether such charter schools were necessary or appropriate.
|Teaneck EA President Thomas Papaleo testified against a proposal that would allow for the proliferation of virtual charter schools in New Jersey. He told a story about a recent episode in his classroom, where a student offered support and encouragement to a classmate. “Kids need kids and people need people,” Papaleo said. “Online schools do not have the capacity to provide for the needs of the whole child.”
The proposal also opens the floodgates to allow unchecked proliferation of so-called virtual charter schools, which would drain resources from local districts to enroll students from across the state. There is no evidence that virtual charter schools are capable of providing a high-quality, comprehensive education, but the administration’s plan would allow them to set up shop and charge local districts for the cost of educating students from a “region of residence” potentially as large as the entire state. New Jersey’s charter school law never contemplated virtual charter schools, and is not equipped to deal with issues of quality, accountability and funding around such schools. Virtual schools should not be squeezed into the current charter school law, but should be subject to specific and carefully considered legislation to ensure that they can fully meet the educational needs of students and that they are not simply a giveaway of public funds to private operators. The opportunity for abuse is far too great under the very loose guidelines proposed by the administration.
The Administration is also attempting to undermine the tenure rights of charter school employees, creating a system that will leave those employees vulnerable to mistreatment and unfair dismissal.
New Jersey’s charter school law is designed to ensure that the state’s public charter schools meet high standards and provide locally-appropriate educational options. The Christie administration’s plans would undermine local accountability and make charter schools into essentially a parallel public school system, operated by the authority of the Commissioner of Education without any accountability the communities upon which they are imposed. NJEA is committed to ensuring that all of New Jersey’s public schools remain public, and that they remain accountable to their communities and the students they serve.