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Legislators, Advocates Push for New Virtual Charter School Laws

Teaneck's oversize bill for a proposed charter points out problems and loopholes in current law

With two virtual charter schools approved in New Jersey and a third proposed, legislators and advocates are pressing the state to bring its laws up to date with the technology.

The latest development involves questions as to how the schools are to be funded -- and by how much, given the potential savings in brick-and-mortar costs.

The of Teaneck would like to see both questions resolved ASAP. It to pay for up to 1,000 students who would attend the proposed Garden State Virtual Charter School housed in that community.

If the school is ultimately approved, the district would likely never have to pay anywhere near that much, since the school aims to draw students from across New Jersey. But through a quirk in the current law, the host community must at least budget for the fully enrolled, leaving the Teaneck superintendent with a bit of sticker shock.

"We were told it was purely for planning purposes, but to us planning means budget and programs and staff," said Superintendent Barbara Pinsak. "That's 20 percent of our budget, that's a lot of money."

State officials have said the district is overreacting; the projection is only meant to help Teaneck with its budgeting. But Pinsak then asked why had the state sent a detailed notice with a precise figure, saying it will force her to commit funds that will be difficult to reallocate after the fact.

"You can't just rehire teachers in the middle of the year," she said, "and plug the money back in."

The situation has caused enough stir that some legislators are calling for revisions to the law to include clearer rules for all facets of virtual schools, from how students are recruited and enrolled, what facilities are required, and whether funding should match those of conventional schools.

"There remain some real questions of what's allowed and what's not," said state Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex), primary sponsor of several prominent charter school bills now pending.

She has questioned whether two approved charter schools -- one in Newark, the other in Monmouth County -- can even open under the current law. But she said the Teaneck notice has also brought attention to whether virtual charters should be funded to the same level as others, given their cost savings.

Read more at NJSpotlight.com

Keith Kaplan November 11, 2011 at 02:41 PM
Charters get 90% of the per student cost that the township pays out. The reason that Teaneck was chosen is that we spend more than almost every other town in NJ. If we don't want to be the target for such charters in the future, the answer is simple -- reign in spending! Or we can just wait and see how the ensuing litigation and layoffs work out -- that's always worked in our favor.
Cathy Barbella November 11, 2011 at 02:58 PM
It seems the founder of The Garden State Virtual Charter School, who lives in Teaneck, who happens to have a child in the public school, and is a lawyer has not done his homework regarding the "quirk in the current law". Now that it has been publically revealed that the damage to Teaneck public schools will be enormous, maybe he should retract his proposal until the laws are revamped. Thousands of students will be severely negatively effected if $15 million is taken from the school budget. It's not clear what the cost will be for a "virtual" student and it hasn't been disclosed as to what will happen to excess funds. It would be beneficial to residents, parents, students and school officials to disburse specific plans about the new school. Take the time to discuss and to make thoughtful decisions.
Barbara Ostroth November 12, 2011 at 03:05 PM
It is way past time for NJ state legislators to tackle the legislation they passed so erroneously in the mid 1990's. This is not to say that there is no place for charter schools in NJ -- there is. However, not only should local districts have a stronger say in newly created charter schools, the funding mechanism needs to be corrected so that the state puts its money where its mouth is -- to support the schools they so cavalierly approve and then foist onto local districts to fund. In addition, legislation needs to be amended so that there is more accountability in local districts, starting with public elections of charter school boards instead of having them secretly chosen from within parent ranks. The state can say all it wants to that charter schools are public option schools -- they are clearly private schools paid for by public tax dollars, not on the same playing field. They can limit their class sizes, they can limit their curriculum options and slide past state mandates, etc. It's just not right, and legislators who voted yes to support the original charter school laws should be ashamed of themselves.
Art Vatsky November 13, 2011 at 02:14 AM
I want to believe that NJ is improving the services it provides to its citizens. My hopes have been dashed again and again. Its enough to make a citizen cynical. Public education is vital but I feel it is extremely bureaucratic. The students I know in Teaneck (mostly middle schoolers) are fantastic, dedicated committed learners. Their district coursework is challenging. Give them dedicated teachers with some flexibility, cooperating parents and decent resources and they will excel. NJ has decided to have an "education industry" with myriad administrations, sometimes righteous but sometimes selfish unions, and plenty of vested interests. This current senseless accounting ploy controversy isn't about education. It's about power. Let's stand by Superintendent Pinsak and let the people who imposed this unfunded mandate upon us know what fools (and time wasters) we think they are.
Democracy November 13, 2011 at 10:14 AM
Fighting this particular school is not enough. The charter law has to be changed or this will keep happening. Assemblyman Johnson and Assemblywoman Huttle helped pass a bill through the NJ Assembly in June that would require local voters to approve before a new charter school can draw money from a school district. This bill is now waiting for a vote in the NJ Senate. Senator Weinberg has not yet indicated if she supports the bill. She needs to hear from her constituents as to whether they want to make that decision or if we should keep allowing the Commissioner of the NJ Department of Education to decide if new charter schools can draw students from Teaneck, ignoring the wishes of Teaneck residents. Senator Weinberg can be reached at (201) 928-0100. You can also e-mail Senator Weinberg at SenWeinberg@njleg.org.
Jim Dunleavy November 13, 2011 at 05:27 PM
Can anyone share with me the data that says that throwing more money per student increases learning? Is their similar data to suggest that less money decreases learning? Are their other more important factors, including family involvement with the children in their learning that show a more direct correlation to the child's academic success? If the charter school process was such a great success, why are they not everywhere and all the public schools close? just asking.
Karin Kiesow-Irvine November 13, 2011 at 08:57 PM
Of course spending more money does not equate to a better education, look at our own schools (Teaneck Public Schools) they are a perfect example of that. And yes parental involvement does correlate to better academic success. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/05/080527123852.htm
Karin Kiesow-Irvine November 13, 2011 at 08:59 PM
Another interesting read http://www.hfrp.org/publications-resources/browse-our-publications/parental-involvement-and-student-achievement-a-meta-analysis
jacky grindrod November 14, 2011 at 01:55 AM
The idea of a virtual charter school stinks. It's such a bad idea that it's amazing it is taken seriously at all. This is a money-making scheme by people who sell education like it's a commodity - the proponent of this school is NO educator. How is the school going to ensure that the obese-epidemic generation does its physical education? That will be self-certified, wait and see - and if you think people are going to be truthful, I have a bridge to sell you. And that's just ONE reason why it should not be allowed. And how much are these virtual charter school administrators going to be paid? They will make millions out of our hard-earned dollars. This is nothing more than state-sanctioned robbery and it MUST NOT be allowed.
JeffO November 14, 2011 at 06:55 AM
I couldn't agree more. Last August, in the discussion that ensued from Patch's article, "BOE Votes to Restore Busing ( http://teaneck.patch.com/articles/updated-boe-votes-to-restore-courtesy-busing-private-school-routes ), I expressed the opinion that "It would be nice if the State Senate would expedite and pass S2243 (as the Assembly did its counterpart A3852)..." This is the proposed legislation that would require local voters to approve funding for new charter schools, just as voter approval is needed for school bond issues and school budgets. About a week later (though I didn't check back and see it until a few days ago), Senator Weinberg responded, "Jeff: the bill has been bottled up in the Senate Education Committee which is chaired by someone who believes we should have more charter schools - not less." That may well be the case, but it would have been nice to have heard something more explicit as to whether or not the senator supports that bill, and whether she's content to simply let this chairman (presumably a fellow Democrat) keep it bottled up in committee. Now that she's been chosen the next Senate Majority Leader, I would hope Senator Weinberg will use her new position to convince her colleague to get that bill out of committee, and that she'll actively push for its passage in the Senate. To repeat Democracy's above call to action: Senator Weinberg can be reached at (201) 928-0100. You can also e-mail Senator Weinberg at SenWeinberg@njleg.org.

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