New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie is devoted to charter schools. As he has repeatedly demonstrated, he despises the New Jersey Education Association, and charters seldom are unionized. So he gets a twofer: he can privatize and bust the union at the same time. In his state of the state speech, he said he would expand the charter sector. No surprise. But David Hespe, the state commissioner of education, made the goal concrete: 50,000 charter “seats.”
Hespe’s remarks at the state’s annual School Choice Summit at Saint Peter’s University in Jersey City echoed Christie’s Jan. 12 speech. The governor called charter schools a resounding success for the state and said he would “aggressively prioritize” regulatory relief for charter schools.
Charter schools are public schools that operate independently from traditional school districts. If a student leaves their home district to attend a charter school, that district must send a portion of it’s average per-pull funding to the charter school.
Christie has authorized dozens of new charter schools since taking office but the initial flood of new schools has slowed in recent years. Overall, Christie has added 39 new charter schools while closing 17 charter schools for poor academic performance or organizational and fiscal issues.
The state has about 41,500 students enrolled in charter schools and the number will expand to 46,000 as existing charter schools add more grade levels, according to the state Department of Education. The state has not identified a specific timeline for the 50,000 seat goal.
In total, New Jersey more than 1.3 million public school students, Department of Education spokesman David Saenz said.
Christie said his administration will explore ways to create greater flexibility in the teacher certification for charter schools and ways to make it easier for charter schools to find buildings.
To sum it up, the charters take money away from public schools, causing them to lose teachers, increase class size, and cut back programs. This is odd because the state has 1.3 million students, but not quite 50,000 in charters. So the vast majority of students will suffer harm so that the small number in charters can get some of the money the district schools need.
The state will lower standards for teachers in charter schools, thus providing greater flexibility.
The state will seek ways to fund the construction of charter schools or give them public space. One way to ease that problem would be to seek contributions from the New Jersey hedge fund managers who are strong supporters of charter schools.
The strangest thing about this scenario is that New Jersey is one of the highest performing states on the NAEP, usually scoring either second or their behind Massachusetts. At the same time, it has some cities that contain desperately impoverished families. Charter schools will not diminish their poverty nor will it alleviate the segregation that characterizes these districts, like Newark, Camden, and Paterson.
What Governor Christie’s plan will do is to damage the overall condition of public education, in order to push forward his goal of more “charter seats.”