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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."

Read the full story on NJ Spotlight @ Virtual Charter School.

Related Link: Cybercharters Come Online in NJ

NJ Spotlight is an online news service providing insight and information on issues critical to New Jersey, with the aim of informing and engaging the state’s communities and businesses. Its is nonpartisan, independent, policy-centered and community-minded.

M OKeef November 11, 2011 at 04:32 PM
Small article in today's Star Ledger: Private Schools Allowed to Convert to Charters is headline. Bill signed yesterday by Gov Christie. A2806/S1858 allows high performing private schools to apply to become charters. NO MENTION of how this is to be funded! The state does not have enough money to adequately support its existing public schools; I'm at a loss to figure out how we will get funds for a substantial number of new schools. So lets see if Pingry elementary which is located in town decides to become a charter school would that suddenly put Millburn on the hook for their budget? I really wish a hiatus would be put on charter school creation until the entire charter school mishmash of laws are reviewed for coherence and all financing issues are cleared up. What a mess and it is sure to hurt our existing public schools.
Save Our Schools NJ November 12, 2011 at 12:33 PM
Since this virtual charter school would be state-wide, it would draw significant funding from school districts all across the state for what is basically home schooling. Voters in Millburn-Short Hills and other school districts would have no ability to say no as their tax dollars would fly out of their public schools. Virtual charter schools have a very troubling history. Here's a great article on the profiteering and devastation from virtual charter schools. http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/10/jeb-bush-digitial-learning-public-schools These are being backed by the same anti-public education crowd that is pushing vouchers to pay for private and religious education. New Jersey's charter law was written 15 years ago, before cyber schools existed. The voters of NJ need to be able to decide if they want to fund this kind of home schooling with their tax dollars and if so, under what circumstances. Just because something is not expressly forbidden in the law, does not give the NJ DOE the right to do it. We need to bring voter accountability back to NJ's state government! The NJ legislature must enact a moratorium on virtual education until a good bill can be crafted.
Save Our Schools NJ November 12, 2011 at 12:35 PM
Private school charter conversions will be funded just like regular charter schools except for the first year of operations. The State is obligated to pay for the first year, then the individual schools districts where the children live will pay for all the years going forward.
Susan1 November 12, 2011 at 01:04 PM
The NJ State constitution requires that all children receive a "thorough and efficient" education. How these "virtual " schools demonstrate that they meet the standards is beyond me. More troubling is the movement to dismantle the public education system. The concept has been one of the hallmarks of our society.
Don November 12, 2011 at 06:14 PM
See: http://www.wto.org/english/res_e/reser_e/ersd200805_e.pdf http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/50/50/2088515.pdf and http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/51/30/2088471.pdf for some eye opening insight into what school ruckus is REALLY all about. Study Christie's lobbying career! Balance of Trade+ globalization. Charter Schools are the functional equivalent of the Pinkertons and unionbusters of the past, they are just a temporary phenomenon to buy off communities while public educations core constituencies are divded. The wealthy want their slice of the pie to remain undiminished, so others must shrink. The privatization and commoditization and then globalization of once public education and its conversion into an commodity amenable to international trade - its balance of trade tracked - is something we already have committed to - its covered by the GATS international services agreement (look under GATS Mode Four) as well as is a bargaining chip in international trade bilateralism. US multinational firms may get access to profitable emergent markets where they can make dollars to be reinvested overseas without any tax penalty in exchange for good US jobs as teachers, doctors, nurses, under contracts. Also, this should be obvious, but if we, the people want to stop this stuff in NJ, we need to replace the insecure Sequoia AVC Advantage voting machines FIRST. Teachers who want to preserve public education should consider that and single payer healthcare basically as their Job #1 & 2.

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