Editor's Note: New Jersey's charter school office is in the process of reviewing 42 new applications, among them a Mandarin immersion charter school in South Orange/Maplewood, which was denied in the last round of applications when it included Millburn and Livingston. Also under review is Quest Academy Charter High School in Montclair, which is trying for approval for the fifth time. An examination of the Open Public Records Act shows who is reviewing the applications. Here is an excerpt from John Mooney's story in the NJ Spotlight:
Over the past year, the Christie administration employed an array of national and state charter school experts, educators, officials, and other advocates to help review applications for new charters, according to documents released under a public records request.
Sen. Nia Gill (D-Essex) filed the request under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA), and her office yesterday shared the state's response of more than a dozen pages of names and emails.
Included in the first reviews were advocates from across New Jersey, including several charter school leaders. The latest round had a more national flavor, including top charter school officials from Colorado, Florida, and Washington, D.C.
Gill said yesterday the lists in both years was notably absent of traditional public school educators and community representatives. She also questioned the expense of nearly $125,000 for about two weeks work.
"It underscores the need for the local community to have more of a role in the process," Gill said. "They have given charter school consultants more say in how money is spent on charter schools than the communities where they are located and will have an impact."
"We should have a transparency and other voices that come to the table," she said. "It locked out everyone but charter enthusiasts."
Chris Cerf, New Jersey's education commissioner, said yesterday he's glad the names are out and said it was more of a legal issue that held up their release.
Cerf defended the reviewers and their pro-charter leanings as valuable to the process. "These are serious educators and quality people who want public education to succeed," he said. "A central theme of charter advocates today is we need to be extremely thoughtful about who we give a charter school to, and we may have been too generous historically. Being charter advocates is not at all inconsistent with being concerned about quality."
Continue reading in NJ Spotlight @ OPRA Request.
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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. It is nonpartisan, independent, policy-centered and community-minded.