New Jersey, Christie Administration Send Mixed Messages on Charter Schools

chris_christie

New Jersey has turned down a controversial charter school extension plan that has parents taking sides in a Monmouth County community. Gov. Chris Christie’s administration denied a proposal this week that would have doubled the student enrollment at Red Bank Charter School, a 200 student K-8 school.

The charter plan was opposed by community members who noted that the percentage of minority students enrolled in the school was lower than the rate in the district. The school has since decided to suggest a phase-in of the additional classes rather than an immediate expansion, writes New Jersey Advance Media’s Adam Clark.

The letter, written by Education Commissioner David Hespe, to reject the proposal did not give a definite reason for the denial. He explained that the decision was based on the review of the request made by the charter along with comments from the public.

The denial came just as three new charter schools were approved to open and 16 requests from other schools were allowed. Gov. Christie has said that charter schools in New Jersey have been a booming success for the state and added that he would be working tirelessly to bring regulatory assistance to the charters.

Red Bank was not the only charter school expansion that was rejected. In all, ten charters had asked for the privilege of development but were denied.

The question is why the Christie administration would change from approving and supporting new charter schools to allowing existing schools to expand, and then to not approving start-ups. On Monday, when so many schools were allowed to grow and only three new schools were given permission to open, observers were confused.

One twist was the fact that expansion plans were approved for the state’s largest and highest-profile charter networks but were denied for several of the smaller schools that were looking to enlarge as well, writes New Jersey Spotlight’s John Mooney.

Meanwhile, a Jersey City charter school was approved for expansion in spite of the fact that it had been put on probation for being $500,000 in debt.

The Newark-based advocacy group, the Education Law Center, wrote to Hespe last month to ask him to stop the expansions in Newark based on the fact that “unrestricted” growth is not allowed under New Jersey’s charter school law and would only do more damage to the financially-drained district.

Red Bank Charter School expressed its disappointment in a statement:

“This is a missed opportunity to have served Red Bank and an increased number of its economically disadvantaged students via the weighted lottery. We look forward to continuing to serve our students and families with a high-caliber education.”

But public school parents and administrators for the district were angry and said the charter’s growth would redirect even more funding from an already struggling district. Karen Yi, writing for Asbury Park Press, reports that local schools are required to send public financial support to charters when public school students transfer to one of the schools.

In Bergen County, three schools got permission from the state to expand enrollment. Currently, 89 charter schools are open in New Jersey. After 2010, 39 new charters opened, while 17 schools shut down based on deficiencies in academic, financial, and operational matters.

New Jersey Media Group’s Hannan Adely writes that with the current and prior approvals for expansions of charter schools, New Jersey has 50,711 seats available to students for the coming academic year — a 10% increase from this year.