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Charter Schools: It's Decision Time

Will the Quest Academy be approved for Montclair? Department of Education to release new class of charters on Friday.

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.

Dude September 30, 2011 at 04:54 AM
NJ charter schools are publicly funded and privately run - they create even more school boards - Christie and Cerf are awful, and they should not let any more charters go through until they can be locally run, w/community voices, and w/proper oversight of taxpayer dollars
Johnny September 30, 2011 at 02:00 PM
Sounds like even higher property taxes for everyone to me! That's okay. I already pay $12,000 in property tax for a 5000 sq ft piece of land with a run down 1600 sq ft home on it. It's run down because of the taxes, by the way. Now when charter schools come on line and raise my property taxes again, I'll just cut down on food for the family. We'll all be hungry, but hey the kids will get an (arguably) great education!
Save Our Schools NJ September 30, 2011 at 05:05 PM
Whether a specific charter school proposed for your community is approved or denied by the NJ Commissioner of Education, the battle is not over until New Jersey's broken charter school law is reformed. Many charter schools apply as many as four times before they are approved by the Commissioner and a new round of applications is beginning shortly. Until New Jersey's charter law is reformed, the wishes of local communities will continue to be ignored. Sign our petition and generate letters to your State Senator, NJ Senate President Steve Sweeney, and members of the NJ Senate Education Committee, letting them know that you want local control over the creation of new charter schools in your community! http://www.change.org/petitions/new-jersey-communities-want-local-control-over-new-charter-schools-2

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