Cerf Surprises in New Jersey with Virtual Charter School Rejection

New Jersey Stare Education Commissioner Chris Cerf denied the final approval for two proposed online charter schools. A K-12 charter school in Newark and a high school for dropouts in Monmouth and Ocean counties will not be opening online school next fall due Cerf’s decision, reports John Mooney from NJ Spotlight.

The schools would have been the state’s first all-online programs. They had received preliminary support from the Christie administration, so Cerf’s decision came as a shock.

Support for the online charter schools has faltered over the past year. Skepticism surrounding K12 Inc., the nation’s largest education firm, grew. K12 was connected with both charter applications; their role in the programs prompted debate and criticism that proved to be too much for an approval.

Cerf claims his disapproval stems from the uncertainties of the legal standing and effectives of online education. The state’s charter law does not include anything on virtual learning, which comes as no surprise since it is 17 years old.  This past summer he had postponed his final decision about the charters until recently when he gave his final answer.

“Uncertainty about the legal foundations for fully virtual charter schools and the Department’s serious concerns regarding its ability to effectively oversee such schools precludes the Department from granting . . . a final charter,” Cerf wrote to one of the schools.

The schools came back with prompt responses to this news. The New Jersey Virtual Academy Charter School, which would have been operated out of Newark, released a letter to Cerf containing their concerns over the rejection.

“We now find ourselves in the position of having to tell 850 children, their families, and the teachers your staff insisted we hire as part of the compliance process that, once again, the school will be denied the opportunity to open and prove ourselves,” read the letter from Michael Pallante, chairman of the proposed school’s board.

“Not once during all of the hearings, trainings, demonstration sessions, e-mail, and telephone conversations were we ever told that this was going to happen to us and to these families once again,” he said

The letter also noted that the school had hired experts to confirm the effectiveness and speak to the legality of the programs. K12 also signed on with Princeton Public Affairs Group, which is the state’s top lobbying firm.

The other school that was rejected by Cerf was not did not have as solid a foundation. The founder said he would have likely withdrawn the application as they had difficulties signing up the required number of students.