At a special invitation from Assemblywoman Caride, NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer testified today in front of the Assembly Education Committee on the New Jersey Charter School Law.
Steinhauer testified, “We want to ensure that the rights of the staff in public charter schools remain respected and that we apply the highest professional standards to these educators to ensure the best education possible for students. With these principles, we are therefore concerned about new regulatory proposals from the New Jersey Department of Education to create a different, and lower, set of standards for public charter schools. We believe in one educational system, one set of high standards.”
NJEA policy on charter schools says, in part, that “NJEA supports high quality public charter schools as one component of an innovative, progressive system of public education,” and that “public charter schools, along with magnet schools, vocational schools and traditional public schools can all play an important role as laboratories for innovation and provide a broad array of choices for parents.”
For perspective, it is important to understand the origins of the New Jersey Charter School Program Act. In the 1990s, educators across the country wanted to experiment with new teaching and learning methods to meet the needs of a diverse array of students. Charter schools were intended as locally run operations, created and operated by community members, parents, teachers, and others, who were invested in the success of public education and the community.
This original vision assumed that these “laboratories of innovation” would inform instruction across the public education system. The lessons learned would enhance local school districts and the educational experience of all students.
NJEA has supported the concept of public charter schools since the original charter law went into effect over 20 years ago. NJEA believes in this original vision, but understands the need to adjust the law to reflect new challenges in the years since the law’s enactment, which is why the NJEA Delegate Assembly at its May meeting voted to advocate for and support a moratorium on the approval of any and all new applications for charter schools, any and all applications for expansion of existing charters, and any and all requests to expand the area of recruitment for an established charter until and unless:
1. The funding formula established under the School Funding Reform Act is fully funded for all public schools.
2. The public school district(s) affected have proposed and passed a balanced budget that did not require or include a reduction in force, for the two years prior to the application, as well as for the current year.
3. Public charter schools are required, through statute and regulation, to adhere to the same standards of accountability and transparency as traditional public schools in all matters.
This moratorium on the approval of new charter schools would not eliminate public charter schools in New Jersey, nor even affect those already operating or approved. It would, however, give NJEA time, especially in light of the New Jersey Department of Education’s radical proposed changes to the charter school regulations, which would greatly weaken accountability, certification, and standards in a number of other areas.
In the weeks and months ahead, as we continue to discuss the law, NJEA wants to keep the promise of the Charter School Program Act by staying true to its original mission. This moratorium would give all stakeholders the opportunity to refocus the mission and strengthen our commitment to equity, access and excellent educational outcomes for all students.