Let the Public Decide on Charter Schools

By Assemblyman Patrick J. Diegnan Jr.

As the debate on education reform continues to unfold across the nation and our state, most people agree that charter schools in the right place and at the right cost are a viable option for educating our children.

            But just as public schools are required to get voter approval for their annual spending, charter schools should have to prove their worth to the public before they open their doors and start spending taxpayer money.

            After all, charter schools are funded by taxpayer dollars, and their mission should be supported by the local community.  90% of the cost of charter school students comes from the local Board of Education budget.

            That’s why I’m sponsoring legislation that would require charter schools to be approved by the voters of the district at the annual school election before they are authorized to operate.

            Giving voters input into deciding whether resources should be devoted to a charter school is the right thing to do. Taxpayers deserve to decide whether public dollars should be devoted to a charter school.

            Our democracy relies on giving the community a voice, and charter schools that are worthy will surely get the support they need.

            With that in mind, let them prove their case, especially so-called “boutique” charter schools that are proposed not only in Middlesex County, but in communities across our state.   Should we be opening them in strongly performing school districts and should taxpayer money be used to support them? That’s a question for the voters, whose money is being spent, to decide.

             East Brunswick recently appealed approval for a Hebrew-based charter school in its district, arguing it did not enroll enough East Brunswick students. The dispute will be decided by a state official tucked into some office somewhere. That’s not how democracy should work. The community should be making these decisions.  A similar school is proposed in Highland Park.  The residents should approve any request as a prerequisite of state review.

          If a charter school is truly innovative and in-demand, then it will earn the community’s support.  Charter schools are important, but so is public input.  The voters deserve a chance to decide whether their community should have get a charter school and have public money devoted to it.

Patrick J. Diegnan, Jr., represents the 18th Legislative District in Middlesex County in the New Jersey General Assembly.  A Democrat, he serves as the chairman of the Assembly Education Committee.

Let the Public Decide on Charter Schools