Charter school backers oppose pending bills as too restrictive

TRENTON – Charter school supporters on Tuesday urged the Assembly to vote down several pending bills, calling them “piecemeal legislation” that provide little to no benefit.

Carlos Perez, president of the New Jersey Charter Schools Association, said one bill, A3852, which would require the approval of a school district’s voters in order to create a charter school, would essentially serve as a “barrier,” and exclude many families who otherwise would have a choice on where to have their children educated.

Another bill, A3356, would require all children of a district to be enrolled in a charter school lottery.

The third bill, A2806, would permit conversion of a non-public school into a charter school, and the last bill, A3083, would create new charter school authorizers and charge per-pupil fees.

“It will slow down the growth of charter schools,” he said. “This type of reform is hurtful.”

The first two bills – A3852 and A3356 – are listed for a vote Wednesday in the Assembly.

Perez said the association supports such options as five-year “contracts” in which charter schools would be held accountable for such goals as student performance, and making sure all children have access to educational resources.

He said New Jersey would be breaking new ground nationally if it requires a referendum for charter schools to be established.

“No other state has this provision,” he said. “New Jersey would be the first.”

Karen Thomas, founder of a Newark charter school, Marion Thomas Charter School, said the decision-making process seems to be getting “further and further away” from parents.

“This is not a bargaining chip. This is about children’s lives,” she said.

There are currently some 72 charter schools in the state, officials said.

“I implore the politicians to think about the needs of the children and parents in their communities,” she said.

Ultimately, Perez had a simple message for the Assembly, even though he admitted neither he nor his group has crafted any legislation that would be more conducive to the association’s goals.

“We would support that the legislation not pass tomorrow,” he said.

Perez admits the charter school sector has its share of detractors, blaming much of it on the idea that they drain money away from public schools. In fact, he said, the money belongs to the children.

“We find a lot of entrenched opposition. Many view the change as a threat,” he said.

  Charter school backers oppose pending bills as too restrictive