I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Saturday, March 11, 2017

NJ Charter Schools - A Fool's Gold Rush: Prelude

Here are all the parts of this series so far:


Franklin, NJ

Princeton, NJ

Vineland, NJ

Chris Christie begins his last year in Trenton as the least popular governor in the nation. But that doesn't mean he still can't impose his will on New Jersey; the governorship here is one of the most powerful in the nation. So even though many communities throughout the state may not like Christie, he can still act against their wishes and jam through any numbers of policies in his last year simply because he can.

Take, for example, charter schools:
Trenton, NJ – The New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) is announcing decisions on new public charter school applications, charter renewals, amendment requests for expansions, and closures. 
“All New Jersey public schools, which include charter schools, must be held to a high standard in order to ensure that all of our children receive the quality educational experiences they deserve,” said Acting Education Commissioner Kimberley Harrington. “These decisions reflect this Administration’s continued commitment to hold low-performing charter schools accountable, while expanding access for New Jersey families to high-quality charter schools.”
Sure, it reflects Christie's commitment to charter schools -- no matter what local communities may think. As regular readers know, New Jersey charters are only answerable to the NJDOE, which is under the direct control of the governor. Local school boards have no say in charter approvals or renewals, even though they must fund them -- no matter how damaging those charters may be to the local public schools.

The greatest fiction produced by the New Jersey charter school industry -- and, for that matter, charter cheerleaders nationwide -- is that charter school funds simply "follow the student," and have no impact on district finances or programs.

This is nonsense. Charters are self-contained, redundant school districts that are usually so small that they can't leverage economies of scale. Empirical research shows charters have had detrimental effects of the finances of districts in New York State and Michigan. Furthermore, while there is variation across the nation, Bruce Baker and I have shown that charters, on average, spend less on instruction than public district schools.

And I have shown clearly New Jersey's charter schools spend far more on administrative costs and far less on student support services than their public district hosts. Keep in mind these support costs are for the services special education students need the most; however, charters enroll, proportionally, far fewer of these students than the public district schools. Charter schools are, therefore, a serious fiscal burden on public schools.

But it's as if NJDOE hasn't considered any of this, opting instead to allow charters expand for one final year before a Democrat gets into the statehouse and puts a halt to their growth:

Public Charter School Expansion Requests
Nine charter schools requested an expansion as part of their renewal that each charter school undergoes every five years, and the NJDOE granted seven of these requests. The NJDOE granted 15 additional charter school expansion requests through an amendment process that allows the school to expand outside of their renewal. (Charts that identify the approved expansions are below.) 
The NJDOE evaluates all charter schools every five years that are up for renewal on their academic performance, fiscal viability, and operational stability. Of the 22 charter schools up for renewal this year, the NJDOE renewed 21 schools. Due to continued low academic performance, the Camden Community Charter School was not renewed. [emphasis mine]
That is an extraordinary amount of growth... but what are the consequences? Did NJDOE ever stop to ask themselves what they might be doing to the local school districts by forcing charters on to local communities without any say?

At a talk earlier this month, I pointed out that NJDOE collects a lot of data -- but they rarely ever seem to want to use it. Let's correct that: let's take a dive into the data and see if we can determine the impact of this massive charter school expansion on local communities that are already suffering because Chris Christie refuses to follow the state's own law and fully fund local districts.

Will the Great New Jersey Charter School Rush of 2017 actually help students and taxpayers? Or is it nothing more than prospecting for fool's gold? Stand by...

It may be shiny, but...

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