State Blocks One Charter School, But More May Be Coming
Fate of proposed Hebrew immersion school expected to be announced by July 15
With the Christie administration last week blocking one controversial charter school from opening, New Jersey’s charters are once again in the spotlight. Adding to that high-wattage scrutiny is the suggestion that the state this summer will expand the size and scope of the charter movement.
In a late Friday release, the state Department of Education announced it would not allow the Regis Academy Charter School to open this fall in Cherry Hill. It cited the lack of viable facilities, as well as questions about the veracity of the school's application.
It was a significant decision, quieting for now what is the latest argument about charters moving into suburban communities. The Cherry Hill school district had appealed the approval on several legal grounds.
But this is just one of several tempests stirred up about New Jersey charters. The administration is slated to decide next week if as many as two dozen more charters will be opening in the fall, including the state’s first online schools.
The department is finishing its so-called “preparedness reviews” of schools that have been approved but still needs their final charters before they can open. The reviews include examinations of planned enrollments, facilities, budgets, and other key components. The state has said it will make the decisions on final charters for the fall by July 15.
Among the schools up for their final charters are several connected with K12 Inc., the nation’s largest online education company, which is making its first major inroad into New Jersey.
K12 is on track to operate one statewide school out of Newark, an entirely online operation for kindergarten through 12th grade. It is also in partnership to run a second online school out of Monmouth County that would serve at-risk high school students. In addition, it is involved in two other schools that would have a more blended learning model of online and face-to-face instruction.
The all-online schools have been controversial on several fronts, both here and nationwide. Democratic legislators have sought to put a moratorium on new online school until further studies can be made. A bill for a one-year moratorium passed the Assembly but has yet to be posted in the Senate.
The administration has been coy as to its intent with these schools. On the one hand it has refused to say if it will clear them to open. On the other, it is seeking regulatory changes that could make them easier to operate. Those proposed regulations are before the state Board of Education, and have drawn their own scrutiny.
Still, acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf has been more and more outspoken in pressing both new and existing charter schools, saying that he would only be getting tougher with them. He closed one school this spring for low student performance, and placed two others on probation.
“We take our responsibility to ensure that only high-quality schools open very seriously,” Cerf said yesterday. “We have rebuilt our organization, refined our accountability measures, and have been very careful about which schools to grant, while holding existing schools to a high level of accountability.”
One of those schools on probation, the Adelaide L. Sanford Charter School in Newark, is under state investigation regarding the propriety of its lease and potential conflict of interest, according to a report in The Star-Ledger yesterday.