NJ Spotlight: At $15 Million, Virtual Charter Causes a Real Case of Sticker Shock
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 district of Teaneck would like to see both questions resolved ASAP. It received notice from the state this week that it should set aside more than $15 million 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.
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.
"One of the attractions of virtual charters is they are less expensive, and certainly shouldn't be getting what the districts is spending," she said. "The Teaneck situation has helped bring that to light."
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