The following is an Op-Ed by Marian Raab. Marian is a 10-year-resident of Maplewood and the mother of two young boys. Her oldest son currently attends the Tuscan Elementary School and the youngest will be entering kindergarten there in September.
The charter school movement in New Jersey has officially gone off the rails.
Charter schools were originally intended to serve as laboratories for ways to better serve struggling low-income students, especially in high-poverty districts.
But now some charter schools have become vehicles for the elite and upper middle-class to get a specialized “boutique” private-school education on the public dime.
For example, a proposed Mandarin-immersion charter school in my hometown of Maplewood has once again applied for approval from the New Jersey Department of Education. The Hua Mei Charter School, which would also draw students from South Orange and West Orange, was rejected last year by Acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf. But it was allowed to reapply and has made the final cut in a list of 17 charter schools that Commissioner Cerf is scheduled to approve or deny later this month.
This may sound like déjà vu all over again to Montclair residents who have seen the Quest Academy Charter School re-apply—and be rejected—numerous times by different state education commissioners. Now—like Hua Mei—the fate of the Quest Academy rests the hands of one appointed official in Trenton.
This is terrible public policy that must be changed to give control back to local communities.
This kind of power should not be held by one person. One appointed official should not be able to decide the fates of our school budgets and schoolchildren. If there’s one thing that liberals and conservatives can agree upon, it’s that local residents should have a say in making the educational decisions that will impact their children’s futures. Assembly Bill 3852 and Senate Bill 2243 do just that—require local voter approval before a new charter school is allowed to open. This bi-partisan legislation overwhelmingly passed the New Jersey Assembly last summer but is currently stalled in the State Senate.
Taxpayers must have a say over how cash-strapped public school spend their dollars. New Jersey’s charter school law is alone in allowing the state’s Department of Education to authorize an unlimited number of new charter schools, regardless of the wishes of local residents, while expecting those towns to pay for the operations of the charter schools out of their existing public school budgets.
The suggestion by the founders of these charter schools that they will not drain money from local districts is embarrassingly ill-informed. For each student sent from a particular district, 90% of the average per pupil cost is siphoned off by the charter. Yet, the marginal savings of educating one less child in the district is nowhere near 90% the average cost, given that physical plant, operational and maintenance and personnel costs will still be exactly the same.
This is why we have scheduled a rally in opposition to Hua Mei and in support of local control over the charter school approval process, on Friday, January 6 at 4:30 pm at the Maplewood Community Center in DeHart Park, 120 Burnett Ave. Maplewood, NJ.
Please join us there.