|“The Christie administration seems intent on creating two sets of rules for two separate school systems,” NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer testified.
The State Board of Education met Nov. 2 to hear testimony regarding proposed amendments to public charter school regulations. There are several major changes being proposed. One proposal is to create a five-year pilot program in which public charter school operators would be given the authority to grant a provisional and standard certificate to charter school employees. Under current regulations, teacher certification comes through the state, not individual public schools. This same proposed method of certification would also apply to charter school administrators and business administrators.
“The Christie administration seems intent on creating two sets of rules for two separate school systems,” NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer testified. “We believe that every public school and every public school district should be held to the same high standards. These proposed changes reflect a lessening of and, in some cases, an outright elimination of regulations.”
NJEA believes that the proposed amendments are tantamount to eliminating certification because they essentially give carte blanche to charter school operators to hire whomever they like, with very little regard to factors such as credential equivalency, meeting GPA requirements, or passing basic skills assessments or subject-matter knowledge assessments.
“We support the concept of public charter schools, and we have been clear and on the record about it since the Charter School law went into effect over 20 years ago,” NJEA Vice President Marie Blistan testified. “However, we cannot support the proposed regulatory changes as they are a complete abrogation of the laws of this state and nation. To diminish the time, efforts, and financial sacrifice of our teaching community to lower the standards for the profits of corporations at the expense of our children is an abomination.”
NJEA represents over 1,000 charter school members in public charter schools. Speaking from their experiences were members Jamie Valente and Cindy Brown. Jaime Valente is the director of performing arts at the Teaneck Community Charter School in Bergen County. Cindy Brown is an enrollment and truancy officer at the Golden Door Charter School in Jersey City.
Valente testified that by creating an alternate teaching certification that would apply only to employment in a charter school, bypassing the traditional routes for certification, allows for the development of two classes of teachers: those that have treated their profession with the utmost respect and invested in the proper training and certifications, and those that charter operators deem “worthy” of their classrooms, but have not been deemed worthy by the State Department of Education through traditional methods.
Brown agreed, testifying that the State Board of Education is loosening standards without addressing the serious accountability problems in many of our charter schools.
“This spells disaster and there is no compelling reason to do so with the challenges faced within these schools,” Brown stated. “If anything, the regulations should be going in the other direction to improve the conditions within these schools and ensure that those students are not shortchanged an excellent education.”
In addition to testimony from NJEA officers and public charter school members, testimony was given by Steven Beatty, a 24-year teacher of high school social studies in the Bridgewater-Raritan School District, president of both his local and the Somerset County Education Association and chairperson of the NJEA Government Relations committee. Beatty argued that this is "an issue of social justice that cannot be ignored—the unnecessary suffering of these public schools and their students so that we may fill the coffers of corporate charters with taxpayer money, that is beyond the control of the taxpayers."
NJEA believes that the current proposed changes are an abrogation of the current laws and a complete watering down of the licensing standards. It is illegal to teach in the state of New Jersey without a valid teaching certificate.
Several other changes in the proposed regulations that were addressed in testimony include:
- Allowing charter schools to analyze a public school district’s assets, including properties, and renovate or expand a vacant school at the host district’s expense.
- Allowing charter schools to create preschool programs, whereas some public school districts, which have 40 percent or more students considered at risk, do not get funding for preschool programs.
- Removing the limitations on home schooling instruction provided by the charter school through lifting the requirement that students can be home-schooled only for reasons of illness or injury, thereby allowing students to be home-schooled for any reason.
- Allowing charter school students to attend extracurricular and sports programs at the host public school district at no cost to the charter school, which means that the host school picks up all of the costs and liabilities of having the charter students engage in after-school activities.
- Creating single-purpose charter schools which would violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New Jersey Constitution, among other statutes both federally and at the state level.