Montclair will learn on Friday the decision on its application for the Quest Academy charter high school, the state Department of Education said.
has called this new class of approvals “a watershed moment” in education as charter schools try to move into the suburbs and high-performing school districts.
The state Department of Education has before it for new charters, including Quest and also two Mandarin-immersion schools that would recruit students from Livingston and neighboring districts.
The decisions have been cloaked in secrecy. “They’ve been closed mouth about it, at least around me,” said Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-27th District) on Thursday.
Jasey has been leading efforts in the state's 15-year-old statute governing charter schools.
“Charter schools are part of the public school landscape,” Jasey said, “but there is work to be done to define their role and how they’re going to interact with regular public schools.”
Rich Vespucci, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, confirmed that the decisions would be released on Friday. “We are still on track,” he said.
If approved, the Quest Academy would open in September 2012.
Tensions have been building over the pending decision for the past six months. Montclair and other suburban school distrcits say these charter schools will drain money away from public schools already scrapping by. Proponents of school choice counter that charter schools are public schools and offer opportunities that the traditional schools are failing to address.
Both sides said they are anxiously awaiting the decision.
The decision ultimately falls to Acting Education Commissioner who has attended numerous forums on this hot-button education issue. At a panel discussion last spring Cerf acknowledged that what he called “boutique” charter schools, such as those offering language immersion programs, might not be needed in suburban districts that are "humming along."
“Hopefully Cerf will proceed in a measured way,” Jasey said. “He’s heard NJ voters and their concerns. I’m hoping whatever he decides reflects the concerns of voters.”
Those concerns have repeatedly been expressed at rallies and public meetings, including the financial impact to school districts, accountability and transparency.
“We do not expect the Department of Education to approve many or possibly any new suburban charter schools in order not to rile up the suburbs before the election,” said Julia Sass Rubin, a founder of Save our Schools, a grassroots group advocating for new charter schools law.
“However, until the charter law is reformed to bring New Jersey in line with the rest of the country by requiring local approval for new charters, communities will continue to have no control over their schools and their property taxes,” Rubin said on Thursday. “This issue isn't going away until our broken charter law is repaired."
Last week in Livingston, Rubin represented Save our Schools in a debate with Carlos Perez, president of the New Jersey Charter Schools Association.
If the charter schools are approved by the NJ Department of Education, the school districts would pick up 90 percent of the cost per student.
In other news related to charter schools, a New Jersey state senator has filed a legal challenge to force the Department of Education to turn over the names of volunteer reviewers who helped select new charter schools.
Sen. Nia Gill, (D-Essex) cited possible conflicts of interest in the approval process. The department must appear in Superior Court in Mercer County on Dec. 9 to answer the challenge.
According to NJ.com, state officials in January said more than a dozen volunteer reviewers read applications and gave non-binding recommendations on proposed charter schools.
Earlier this week, the state Senate approved a bill that would allow certain parochial and private schools to convert to charters. Few believe the proposal will lead to many conversions, but it may send a lifeline to at least a few closing Catholic schools, according to NJ Spotlight.