A panel of education professionals met Sunday at Teaneck's to discuss the positives and negatives of charter schools, including how the schools are funded and approved in New Jersey.
Shavar Jeffries, an associate professor at Seton Hall School of Law, said charter schools allow educators to work around the limitations of public schools. Charter schools can operate more efficiently because they don't have the same politics and bureaucracy, he said.
"You get a system that's dominated by the interests of adults, rather than the kids," Jeffries said.
Paul Tractenberg, a professor at Rutgers Law School who has been involved with school funding litigation, said the public needs to be aware of who is funding charter schools — and possibly making money off them — and what students are being admitted to them.
Charter schools generally take fewer special education and English as a Second Language students, according to Tractenberg. Because charter schools are funded with public tax dollars, there should be more transparency in how they are run, he said.
Margot Fisher, a member of the Teaneck Board of Education agreed with the need for the public to have more say in how charter schools are run. Fisher said she believed the public should have the opportunity to vote on approval for charter schools and elect their boards.
Charter schools are responsible to the state Department of Education, with the agency's commissioner solely responsible for approving new schools.
Jeffries said, as long as they meet the state's requirements, they should be allowed to be flexible with their staff and curriculum. Jeffries is the former board president at Newark's TEAM Academy Charter School, the largest public charter school in New Jersey. He said TEAM Academy's graduation rate was much higher than Newark's public schools because they are more flexible and able to hold more hours of class time each day and stay open more days each year.
"It's not magic," Jeffries said.
Tractenberg said he believed public schools could perform better if education in the United States was viewed as it it is in countries like Finland, which is widely considered to have one of the world's best education systems.
Fisher said she wished the effort that had been put into charter schools had been put into improving public schools.
Whichever option parents choose, all three panelists agreed that education needs to remain a priority.
"We all want great education for our kids," Fisher said. "That's not easy to achieve, and it's probably not cheap to achieve."
Charter schools, a major element of Gov. Chris Christie's education reform plan, have proven controversial. In Teaneck, a was met with a public outcry when the state said it could cost the school district more than $15 million. serving both Teaneck and Englewood have faced concerns over costs and curriculum.