At its regularly scheduled meeting today, the State Board of Education took a first look at the new charter school regulations proposed by Governor Christie.

The proposed regulations are disconnected from best practices and diminish the teaching profession. NJEA does not support these proposed changes. “There can be no doubt that these amendments are designed for one purpose and one purpose only — to sell out New Jersey’s public education system to for-profit, corporate charter school operators in the closing year of the Christie administration in order to put traditional public schools at a competitive disadvantage for years to come,” said NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer. “The Christie administration seems intent on creating two sets of rules for two separate school systems. We believe that every public school and every public school district should be held to the same high standards.”

NJEA supported the original 1995 law that authorized public charter schools in New Jersey. NJEA’s 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.”

NJEA has been clear on its support of public charter schools for years, as long as certain criteria were met. NJEA has supported legislation to ensure that public charter schools are subject to the same accountability and safety standards as traditional public schools in order to better protect both students and staff in those schools.  NJEA has also advocated for legislation to prevent profiteering on public charter schools so that student learning, and not corporate profits, will remain the most important priority.

According to Steinhauer, there are a number of problems with the proposed regulations, leading to NJEA’s strong opposition.

Educators Not Consulted

NJEA was not consulted on the proposed changes. In fact, in the opening summary it very clearly states that Governor Christie met with state and national charter school operators and that these changes reflect their ideas:

“Governor Christie met with State and national charter operators to discuss the state of public charter schools in New Jersey. During this discussion, many charter operators explained that New Jersey’s regulatory environment is a major impediment to growth of the charter sector in the State.”

This disregard for the input of professional, practicing educators is typical of the Christie administration’s misguided and harmful approach to education policy making. Allowing charter school operators to rewrite the rules to reduce their own accountability is irresponsible and indefensible.

Violates Current Law

The proposals represent a complete contradiction to the current law. Multiple violations of the existing charter law are written into the proposed regulations. NJEA is looking into legal options to prevent the Department of Education from circumventing the law through reckless changes to charter school regulations. The legislative process provides for an override when a proposal violates the legislative intent, embodied in the underlying statutes.

Lower Standards

One proposal for a pilot certification program for charter school teachers, principals and business administrators suggests that the charter school can now certify employees based on a loose set of criteria, thereby opening the floodgates for unprepared and unqualified individuals to work in publicly funded charter schools. At the same time the State Board of Education is insisting that new teachers need to pass edTPA, a high-stakes student teacher performance assessment. The DOE is proposing to create a pilot for charter schools that would eviscerate the high standards New Jersey requires to become a teacher. That pilot would allow charter schools to substitute their judgment, and possibly their economic interests, when deciding who should be allowed to teach in their schools. Corporate charter school operators should not be allowed to degrade the standards New Jersey expects of its teachers simply because the governor believes they deserve lower standards.

Less Fiscal Accountability

Many of the financial changes in the proposed regulations loosen the already diminished requirements for fiscal accountability. One of the changes allows for charter schools to analyze a public school district’s assets, including properties, and renovate or expand a vacant school at the host district’s expense. In addition, the proposed changes would allow charter schools to create preschool programs, whereas some public school districts, which have 40% or more students considered at risk, do not get funding for preschool programs. The addition of preschool programs shouldn’t be limited to charter schools.  The Christie administration has refused to fund the preschool expansion called for in the school funding formula. It is unconscionable that the administration would make local districts pay for charter preschool programs in the district when it won’t even fund those programs for all students in eligible districts. It is a transparent attempt to give charter operators a competitive advantage over district schools and to shift more and more public resources to corporate charter school operators.

Segregates Students

The proposed regulations also remove the limitations on homeschooling by lifting the requirement that students can be homeschooled only for reasons of illness or injury, thereby allowing students to be homeschooled for any reason. Charter school students are also allowed, in the proposed regulations, to attend extracurricular and sports programs at the host public school district at no cost to the charter school, which means that the host school picks up all of the costs and liabilities of having the charter students engage in after-school activities. As if those changes were not bad enough, several of the proposals violate New Jersey’s anti-discrimination laws, by allowing charter schools to have weighted lotteries or single-purpose charter schools.

NJEA represents over 200,000 members, including over 1,000 public charter school members.

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