By Deborah Cornavaca
[Deborah Cornavaca is an organizer with Save Our Schools NJ, a grass-roots group promoting high-quality public education for all children in New Jersey. She is active in statewide organizing, legislative advocacy, and promoting local involvement and participation in our community schools. Deborah has three children in the East Brunswick Public Schools and is president of the High School PTA. She has a Ph.D. in anthropological archaeology.]
The New Jersey State Board of Education is considering a set of regulatory changes proposed by acting Commissioner Cerf designed to significantly change how charter schools operate in New Jersey. Perhaps the most significant change Cerf proposes is removing the term ‘contiguous districts’ from the definition of a charter’s potential enrollment area, thereby facilitating the operation of statewide virtual charter schools (N.J.A.C. 6A:11-1.2). There are currently six pending applications for virtual charter schools, four considered hybrid and two that are purely virtual, that could be approved as early as this Friday.
There are two central questions that we must ask this week, therefore. First, how can Cerf claim to have the authority to grant final charter to a virtual charter school, when he acknowledges through his proposed regulatory changes that he does not possess the appropriate regulations? Given that these regulatory changes are not even being voted on by the New Jersey State Board of Education at this week’s meeting, acting Commissioner Cerf should be forced to acknowledge that neither current charter school law, nor regulations, can support the approval of these schools.
Second, as providing high-quality charter school programs is the stated goal of acting Commissioner Cerf, and indeed the justification for the regulatory changes he proposed, how can he justify even considering introducing virtual charter schools into New Jersey? Earlier this year Cerf shut the doors on Emily Fisher Charter School in Trenton due to what he stated was a poor academic record and low graduation rates. Emily Fisher had the mission of educating those children who otherwise might not even be in school, and they worked in conjunction with the public school district to help children that could not remain in district.
So, while Cerf shuts down Emily Fisher for poor academic performance and low graduation rates, he is intent upon opening virtual charter schools that empirically have poor academic performance and low graduation rates. That three of the proposed virtual charter schools have contracts with the for-profit company K-12, Inc. is another red flag. K-12, Inc. has been closely scrutinized for their poor performance and fiscal mismanagement, while making profits for their investors.
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