Cleared in committee: Charter schools for addicted youth

TRENTON – The Senate Education Committee advanced what could be a groundbreaking charter school bill today. It passed unanimously.

S2974 permits a charter school to start up and limit its admissions to students with a substance abuse disorder. The bill would amend the state charter school law in order to establish such an admissions policy.

It would pave the way for such a charter school by Prevention Links to open in 2014 serving initially 40 students in Elizabeth and Roselle, the panel was told.

Sponsor Sen. Ray Lesniak referenced a letter the committee had from prize fighter Gerry Cooney who fought Larry Holmes for the heavyweight title and was drinking a bottle of Scotch a day while training.  “I truly believe that if he had won that fight he probably wouldn’t be alive today,’’ Lesniak said, but instead, Cooney  sobered up and has devoted his life to helping young people overcome such addictions, and Lesniak welcomed such support.

Lesniak said there are such charter schools in other states with a 90 percent success rate.

Roselle Mayor Jamal Holley testified that there are about 31 such high schools in 10 states. It is estimated that as many as 1.9 million addicted youth nationwide will need such attention but not receive it, he said.

“This is a statewide issue that we have,’’ Committee Chair Sen. Teresa Ruiz said in regards to the model program that could be established in Roselle and Elizabeth.

Devon Fox, executive director of Young People in Recovery, told the panel of his own addiction history and his work to help others. “Recovery has given me the opportunity to be a better son, a better family member … a better citizen, and a better American,’’ he told the committee.

He said that such an approach as the one sought in Lesniak’s bill makes it easier for addicted people to make the choice for wellness.

Lesniak said he would agree to a suggestion from the Charter Schools Association to expand the scope before it reaches the Senate floor to include other areas such as special education.

Under the original law, charter school admissions must be open to all, so the statute needs to be changed in order to allow for specialized-admissions charter schools. 

Cleared in committee: Charter schools for addicted youth