State Senator Ronald L. Rice (D-28), Newark, this morning grilled the charter school representative from the Christie Administration, urging a slow down of charter school approvals in New Jersey’s urban areas until a wholly transparent, rigorous and uniform structure exists on the state end of the process.
“We start giving out applications for charters like they’re
Rice heard a state presentation of the following information: 89 charter schools in the state, serving 49,000 children, the bulk of them in Newark, Camden and Jersey City; in fifteen years, 11 have closed and 28 are on probation. Harry Lee, director of charter schools for the state Department of Education, insisted a tough process weeded out the inadequate schools. But the senator had his doubts. Rice decried what he described a culture of failing charter schools and a process that too quickly codifies charters.
“It’s a very rigorous process,” insisted Lee. “It’s a two phase application process. If they meet our bar in terms of the application process… a quality plan in place…and the skills to open up a charter school…” they can position themselves through a charter agreement and subsequent monitoring process wherein the state visits the school twice a year. Lee said financing per school depends on the district and that galled Rice, who demanded hard angles on how the schools open their doors.
“We know they we know they’re taking money out of these districts. That’s why we have deficits. How much is required [from them],” Rice wanted to know. “What is the minimum required?” He’s fear, said the veteran senator, is that the process is arbitrary and political, lacking foundation across the board.
“They’re different because you’re making them different,” Rice told Lee. “We should slow down the application of charter schools. That’s why I’ve requested a moratorium. Let’s fix what’s not working. We’re supposed to be fixing schools, not closing schools.”
Lee said charter teams only require one application, a situation Rice expressed doubt about, noting that schools under an umbrella organization may be failing but remain open owing to the team concept, which may, he hinted, be politically driven and not based on real quality control.
Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver (D-34), the former Speaker of the General Assembly, wanted to know about the progress of charters toward exemplifying models for public education. “All of us have a great deal of interest in the charter school movement in New Jersey,” said the 34th District Assemblywoman. “What are we learning from the charter experience [in terms of application to public school techniques.]. …Can you shed life on what the department is doing to take successful models of instruction and what is the applicability to public schools?”
Lee had no immediate answer.
Oliver stayed on the point, demanding how taxpayers can feel good about their money get syphoned for charter schools without an accompanying measurable plan showing how charters and the supposedly great things going on behind their doors can be used by the public schools.