by Linh Tat
in POLITICO New Jersey on Wednesday, January 4, 2017
School districts in Middlesex and Somerset counties will join with the NAACP in calling for a moratorium on new charter school seats, a group of parents, school officials and community activists announced Wednesday.
Highland Park school board president Darcie Cimarusti, who organized an afternoon news conference outside the state Department of Education’s offices, said current requests to add new charter seats across the state would devastate local districts.
“Unless and until this Department of Education can demonstrate exactly what that impact will be, districts around Middlesex and Somerset counties will join with the NAACP in calling for a charter school moratorium on any new seats — either through new charter schools or through charter school expansion,” Cimarusti said. “And we ask … school boards across the state and counties across the state to join with us.”
Cimarusti later told POLITICO New Jersey that she expects school boards from the two countries to adopt resolutions over the next two months.
Critics say charter schools tend to serve fewer English learners and special education students, leading to segregation as these students end up concentrated in traditional district schools.
This also poses an additional financial burden for districts, which are left educating students who need more resources, critics say. Districts are already required to send money to charter schools for students who transfer there.
But proponents of charter schools say such programs offer families choice, especially when private school is not always an option.
“It would be unconscionable for us to see schools that are succeeding and suggest for a moment that we should stifle their growth in any way, shape or form,” Paula White, state director for Democrats for Education Reform, said. “The fact of the matter is that public charter schools in Newark and in other locales throughout our state are doing a really great job of educating children who have been forgotten for far too long.”
Janellen Duffy, executive director of JerseyCAN, said limiting charter school growth would “fly in the face of parent demand.”
“The growth in charter schools in Newark has been directly in response to parent demand there,” she said. “Consistently, charters are picked as the top choices by parents in the universal enrollment system there. … Parent demand is real and parents are making their clear preferences known for high-quality charter schools.”
Opponents of charter school expansion, meanwhile, say there is not enough local control in determining whether a charter application gets approved.
Dina Shaw, a parent in Princeton, said during the news conference that families are upset that charter school applications are decided by the state education commissioner and not by people in the communities that will be directly affected.
A request by the Princeton Charter School in Mercer County to expand would result in about $1.2 million being transferred from the district to the charter school each year, Shaw said.
“Charter schools are paid for by our property taxes. Why can’t we decide how those dollars should be spent?” she asked. “This is taxation without representation.”
John Ravally, superintendent of schools in Franklin Township in Somerset County, said the district currently sends more than $9.8 million to charter schools — an increase of 43 percent in three years. And if the state approves several hundred more charter seats in the area — applications have been submitted by charter schools — the district may have to set aside $12 million to send to these schools, he said.
“Rapid expansion of charter seats could be something insurmountable for us,” Ravally said.
Earlier in the day, the state Board of Education resumed discussion about a proposal to relax charter school regulations. The news conference took place between the morning and afternoon meeting sessions.