Four charter school bills in committee Monday

Another round in the ongoing fight over school choice will be played out Monday in the Assembly Education Committee where four bills confronting different aspects of charter schools will be considered.

One, A2806, would allow non-public schools to convert to charter schools by having the school’s governing body submit an application to the state Commissioner of Education.

The second, A3083, would extend to Rutgers University’s Center for Effective School Practices a power that now resides with the Education commissioner: Act as an additional charter school authorizer.

The prime sponsors of both of these bills include Mila Jasey, (D-27), South Orange, and Albert Coutinho, (D-29), Newark.

A third, A3356, sponsored by Coutinho, aims to improve oversight and accountability of charter schools by doing such things as requiring a charter school to maintain a waiting list for admission and to annually submit the list to the Commissioner, as well as requiring that the Commissioner’s annual assessment of a charter school be posted on the Department’s web site no later than Oct. 15.

The fourth bill, A3852, whose numerous sponsors include Patrick Diegnan Jr. and Peter J. Barnes III, aims to keep control over charter school establishment at the local level.  It would provide that the Commissioner not approve a charter school application in Type II districts (which have elected school boards) unless such establishment has been approved by that district’s voters. And for Type I districts, (which have appointed boards), the board of school estimate must approve its establishment.

Regarding his bill, Diegnan said local public support is essential for charter schools. He said is not an opponent of the concept of charter schools.

“There are some terrific ones,’’ he said. But absent local backing, “that undermines the whole concept of charter schools.’’

He said there is a charter school in East Brunswick and a proposed charter school in Highland Park, both of which have a great deal of local opposition.  

However, at the state level, there is opposition to the idea of strong local control over whether charter schools are established.

But since public money is being funneled toward those schools, Diegnan said, “How can public input be a bad idea? The least we can do is listen and give them the opportunity to be heard.’’

Steve Baker, spokesman for the N.J. Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said the only bill of the four the Association has taken a position on so far is the Rutgers bill, which it supports.

“We’re not opposed to high-quality charter schools,’’ he said. “This (bill) provides the possibility of getting some other high-quality charter schools, and getting a different perspective in on the authorizing process.’’ Four charter school bills in committee Monday