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.