New Jersey Weighs New Charter Authorization Rules

Published September 20, 2010

A coalition of five New Jersey Democrats has filed legislation to expand choice for students and parents in the Garden State by making it easier for more charter schools to open.

The proposal establishes an additional charter school authorizer, expedites approval of charter school applications, and allows new types of charter schools to open, including virtual schools, single-sex schools, and schools focusing on specific behavioral needs or disorders such as autism.

At present the New Jersey Department of Education (DOE) is the sole authorizer of new charters. The bill’s author, Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex), says, “The DOE simply does not have the capacity to expand charter opportunities in a meaningful way. Many other states have successfully implemented multiple authorizers to alleviate the burden of bureaucracy, get charters up and running, and provide the assistance and monitoring needed to ensure successful schools.”

More Flexible Process

The bill, A3083, would allow Rutgers University to approve new charter schools. In addition, it removes other obstacles to new charters by removing the hard deadline for applications and allowing applications to be submitted at any time. The bill also shortens the approval process by requiring a five-month turnaround on applications.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools reports six new charter schools opened last year in the state, bringing the total to 68. There are 2,415 traditional public schools in New Jersey, so charters serve 2.7 percent of the state’s public school students.

Independent Authorizers

Of the 40 states with charter school laws, 21 allow independent or multiple authorizers, according to the Center for Education Reform (CER).

CER advocates states allow multiple authorizers. The organization’s president, Jeanne Allen, explains: “States that do not have multiple authorizers create hostile environments for charters because school boards often view charter schools as competition and reject applications based not on merit but on politics. Multiple authorizing entities provide for a more focused and professional approval process and allow innovative schools to flourish.”

Several states let colleges or universities serve as an independent charter school authorizer, such as the State University of New York, Central Michigan University, and Ball State University in Indiana.

Derrell Bradford, executive director of Excellent Education for Everyone (E3), said, “I hope the legislature will see this as an opportunity to be bold and not incremental both in the number and kind of authorizers and the number and kind of schools brought into existence.” He sees a need for more charter schools in New Jersey, citing the more than 4,000 students on a waiting list in Newark alone.

A companion bill, Senate Bill 2198, is sponsored by Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark) and Sen. Sandra Cunningham (D-Jersey City). The Senate Education Committee heard testimony on August 16, with additional scheduled testimony on September 28 before the Joint Committee on Public Schools in Trenton.

Brooke Terry ([email protected]) writes from Texas and is a former education policy analyst at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.