Three charter school bills on Senate committee docket next week

TRENTON – There won’t be any vote taken, but three controversial charter school bills will be heard by the Senate Education Committee next Thursday.

The first bill, S2243, requires local voter (or proxy) approval before any charter schools are established in a district.

In districts where school board officials are elected by voters – Type II districts – the electorate would also vote on Election Day to approve the creation of any new charter schools. In a Type I school district – which has appointed school board members – the vote on the establishment of a charter school would be conducted by the Board of School Estimate, a board of local elected officials who vote on the district’s proposed tax levy in the annual school budget.

Primary sponsors of the bill are three prominent Democrats: state Sens. Shirley Turner, (D-15), of Lawrenceville; Barbara Buono, (D-18), of Metuchen, and Linda Greenstein, (D-14), of Plainsboro. Among the several co-sponsors is lone Republican Kip Bateman, (R-16), of Branchburg.

The lower chamber lawmakers voted their version of the bill, A3852, out of committee in May. The full Assembly passed the bill in June, 47-17-14, on the back of mostly Democratic support.

The second bill, S3001, is the charter school reform initiative penned by state Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz, (D-29), of Newark. The bill makes various changes to the state’s charter school program, including in the areas of enrollment procedures, monitoring, charter revocation, and collaboration between school districts and charter schools.

The Assembly version, A3356, was passed overwhelmingly in June, 72-6, with scattered GOP opposition that included Minority Leader Alex DeCroce, (R-26), of Parsippany.

The third bill, S1594, is a re-introduced bill from the previous legislative session that sets certain requirements for approval of a charter school application. This bill disqualifies a charter application for schools that do not yet have a local certificate of occupancy for the facility, or that do not have written documentation of adequate financial reserves to lease or purchase the facility and to operate the school.

The bill has two sponsors, state Sens. Ronald Rice, (D-28), of Newark, and Turner; no lower chamber version exists.