NJEA: Moratorium on charter approval, expansion necessary until funding and accountability issues are resolved

NJEA has long been clear in its support for charter schools that operate as public schools. In fact, NJEA supported the original law in 1995 that authorized public charter schools in New Jersey. NJEA believes high quality public charter schools are one component of an innovative, progressive system of public education, along with magnet schools, vocational schools, and traditional public schools.

Of course, much has changed in the twenty years since the charter law was passed, and NJEA has been there every step of the way, working with public school employees, parents, charter school members and other stakeholders to ensure that public charter schools are successful.

For example, we have supported legislation that requires public charter schools to be held to the same accountability and safety standards as traditional public schools, which protects both students who learn there and the staff who work there.

We also advocated for legislation to prevent profiteering on public charter schools so that student learning, and not corporate profits, remain the most important priority.

However, as educational stakeholders, we must take stock of where the law works and where it needs improvement. Charter schools must serve student populations that are representative of the communities in which they operate. There must be fiscal and accountability safeguards in place to deal with larger charter school operators. They must enhance, and not detract from, the traditional public schools in their districts. And they must be responsive to the needs of the parents and students they serve.

Part of what has made many New Jersey’s charter schools successful has been the rigorous accountability measures and protections that have been put in place. These have helped New Jersey avoid many of the outrages and abuses that have occurred in Florida, Ohio, and even across the river in Pennsylvania.

To that end, the NJEA Delegate Assembly, which is the association’s member-elected governing body, has voted to advocate for a moratorium on the approval of all new applications for charter schools, all applications for expansion of existing charters, and all requests to expand the recruitment area for an established charter until:

  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, including, but not limited to:
  • Finance and budgeting.
  • Public disclosure of nonpublic funding amounts and length of commitments.
  • Public disclosure of student behavior codes and disciplinary policies.
  • Public reporting of student retention rates.
  • Staff hiring requirements, and public disclosure of staff qualifications and retention rates.
  • The establishment, monitoring, and enforcement of financial conflict of interest laws for charter sectors.

NJEA is committed to actively supporting legislation and/or regulatory language that will ensure equitable funding for all public schools in the state, and that all public schools, including public charters, are held to the same standards of transparency and accountability.

Further, NJEA will oppose any legislation or regulatory language that would weaken the investigative or regulatory powers of those agencies tasked with ensuring a thorough and efficient education for all New Jersey students.

This moratorium on the approval of new charter schools would not eliminate public charter schools in New Jersey, nor would it affect those already operating or approved. It would, however, give us the opportunity to refocus the purpose of charter schools and strengthen our commitment to equity, access, parental input, and excellent educational outcomes for all students.