Charter School Policy
What are charter schools?
Charter schools are publicly funded but privately managed schools. Charter school laws vary significantly by state.
What governs a charter school?
A charter school is directed by a private Board of Trustees, initially chosen by the founders of the school. Charter Board members do not have to have children in the school or to live in the communities from which the charter school draws its students.
How does a charter school open?
Charter school founders apply to the New Jersey Department of Education for a charter. The Commissioner of Education has sole authority to approve or deny charters.
Do members of the host community or the local school district have a say in the charter school approval process?
The sending district administrations are allowed to comment on the application, but the Commissioner of Education is not required to consider their opinions when granting a charter.
How are charter schools funded?
Charter schools receive funding directly from the school districts that send children to the charter school, based on a formula of either 90% of the program budget per pupil for the specific grade level in the district or 90% of the maximum “thorough and efficient amount”. The sending district also distributes to the charter any additional aid provided by state and federal governments for low-income, special needs, and Limited English Proficient children.
Charter schools also may receive private grants and donations.
Having children leave a district school to attend a charter school generally does not reduce costs for the district, which must continue educating the remaining students. To offset the funds that must be sent to a charter school, a district may either cut programs and staff or increase local property taxes.
Do charter schools provide transportation?
In addition to the direct payments outlined above, sending districts are required to provide transportation to charter schools or to make payments to the parents of charter school students, to enable the parents to arrange their own transportation.
How do children enroll in a charter school?
Each charter school has its own enrollment process. In general, a student has to be enrolled in their home school district and then apply to move to the charter school. If more students want to attend a charter school than the school has space to accommodate, the school must hold a lottery and create a wait list. Charter schools are allowed to give admission preference to siblings of existing charter students.
Does a charter school teach the same curriculum as traditional public schools?
Charter schools are required to meet the same State Standards as traditional public schools are implementing in New Jersey. Like school districts, charter schools may choose specific text books and methods to teach those requirements.
Can a charter school teach religion?
No, a charter school cannot teach religion.
Do charter schools give standardized tests?
Yes, charter schools are required to administer the same state assessments as district schools.
Do charter schools accept students with special needs and English Language Learners?
New Jersey law requires charter schools to offer admission to all children, regardless of their income, race, special needs, or language proficiency. In practice, however, most charter schools serve many fewer students with Limited English Proficiency, fewer very low-income students, and fewer special needs students, especially those with high needs.
Are charter schools better than district schools?
No. Charter schools are simply privately managed schools. In rare circumstances, charter schools have produced higher test scores than their sending school districts. Many charter schools have similar or lower test scores as district schools. However, the most successful charter schools generally have an easier to educate population of students than their sending districts and often have additional private resources to pay for longer school days, smaller class sizes, or specialized instruction. With some exceptions, New Jersey charter schools overall have performed somewhat worse than comparable public schools.
What changes need to be made to the New Jersey charter school law?
Save Our Schools NJ advocates for three changes to our State’s charter school law:
The admission and funding processes must be changed to stop the segregation between charter and traditional public schools by income, ability, and language proficiency
New charters should be approved through a local democratic process in each of the sending communities, rather than by a political appointee in Trenton.
The NJ Department of Education must make data on charter school enrollment, performance and finances more readily available to the public.