New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has indicated that he is unwilling to wait for the state legislature to tackle the issue of charter school regulation and has now taken steps to have the regulations drafted by his administration officials. The proposals outlining the new charter school guidelines will be submitted to the state Board of Education this week.
The new rules provide for the expansion in the number of charter schools allowed to operate in New Jersey. A preliminary version of the guidelines were submitted to the board last month, but the board members voted to delay any action on the proposal for the time being. Meanwhile, critics of the regulations said that the administration is encroaching on the power of the legislature by explicitly allowing online charter schools to open in the state — something that should be left to the state lawmakers to decide.
In response, an updated version was submitted to the board that took out the direct reference to online charters, but leaving a possibility that such school would be allowed. In addition, the latest document sets out the rules that will govern charter school oversight and application and approval process.
Either way, the 70-page package moves ahead in revising the state's role in approving and overseeing charters schools at a time that the Legislature is planning to renew its work on the issue as well.
"The governor has been calling on the Legislature to work with the administration on a rewrite of the law for over a year and a half, to no avail," said Barbara Morgan, press secretary to state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf.
"We cannot wait for something that may happen," she said. "We have an obligation to make changes that strengthen our oversight and accountability measures right now."
No one can blame Governor Christie for getting impatient, as charter schools aren't considered a priority for the state legislators. Over the past two years, the State Assembly and the State Senate took up the issue of charters several times, never arriving at any conclusions or getting close to passing any kind of legislation. In response to the School Board submission, the leaders of the two state houses have indicated that they're ready to take up the matter again, saying that they're beginning a process of evaluating previous 1995 law that made charters legal in New Jersey and hope to produce a new comprehensive piece of legislation to address the future of the publicly funded but privately run institutions.
However, before a comprehensive overhaul of the charter law could be undertaken, lawmakers have to take action on several smaller pieces of legislation that are still pending in one or both houses. Specifically, the New Jersey Senate needs to take up the law passed by the Assembly last year that would require a community vote before a charter school can begin operating locally.