Two charter school bills approved in Assembly committee

TRENTON – The Assembly Budget Committee approved two measures expanding the reach of charter schools in the state. One measure allows for new charter authorizers and the other allows for nonpublic school conversion to a charter school.

Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-15), of Ewing, was the only ‘no’ vote on the committee.

 A3083, allows the State Board of Education to approve up to three four-year public institutions of higher education as charter school authorizers. Currently, the Commission of Education is the sole authorizer in the state.

Once approved, an institution will be authorized to review and approve applications for the establishment of new charter schools, grant, renew, and revoke the charters of charter schools, and will be responsible for the ongoing monitoring of any charter school it authorizes. The bill calls for the State Board of Education to establish a process for the designation of an institution of higher education as a charter school authorizer.

A charter school authorizer may charge a charter school a fee for its ongoing oversight of the charter school in an amount not to exceed 2 percent of the base per pupil amount as established under the “School Funding Reform Act of 2008.” The State Board of Education will be responsible for the on-going oversight of the performance and effectiveness of each charter school authorizer.

N.J. School Board Association lobbyist John Burns testified before the committee today. He said of the 41 states that have charter school programs, 20 states allow local districts to authorizers local charter schools. The local school districts are “more likely to be responsive to the needs of the local community and the needs of local charter school populations,” Burns said. He also said districts across the state have “expressed excitement” in becoming authorizers.

The committee also passed A2806, which permits nonpublic schools to convert to charter schools through an application to the Commissioner of Education. The application must certify that, upon conversion, the school will prohibit religious instruction; events and activities that promote religious views; and the display of religious symbols. The name of the proposed charter school also cannot include any religious reference.

The commissioner is directed to establish an expedited process for application review and must grant a charter application for the conversion of a nonpublic school provided that the school is either high-performing (as determined by the commissioner) or engaging the services of a charter management organization approved by the commissioner.

The bill permits the former students of the converted school to enroll in the charter school and provides that preference for any remaining enrollment spaces for the charter school for its first year, and for all enrollment spaces in each successive year, be provided according to existing law. The bill permits teaching staff and other employees of the nonpublic school, under certain conditions, to continue employment at the charter school upon its conversion. Under the bill, such a charter school may continue to be located in the same building that housed the nonpublic school prior to conversion to charter school status.

Two charter school bills approved in Assembly committee