By John Mooney (Courtesy of NJ Spotlight)
First launched in New Jersey in 1997, charter schools have in the past five years become a hot issue in New Jersey -- both for the alternatives they provide students and districts, and the debate they have fueled over the role of public education. Charter schools are public schools operated by private nonprofit groups that are outside the governance of the local district. Instead, they are overseen by the state through a “charter” or specific renewable agreement.
The charter movement started with just 13 schools and grew slowly during the first decade. Now numbering close to 90 schools and serving 30,000 students, they have matured into a powerful force in the state, especially in urban districts where they are concentrated. In Newark, for example, close to 20 percent of public school students are in charter schools, including a few that are among the district’s highest-performing schools. They have also sparked some backlash in both urban and suburban communities that have resisted the schools and what they call “draining” of local funds and students, as well as the lack of local say in their expansion, among other reasons. National charter management organizations have also made major inroads in the state, including the nonprofit KIPP Network and Uncommon Schools, and for-profit management firms are also now helping run two new schools in New Jersey.
Charter school funding
Much of the debate on charter schools is how they are paid for, with a local district required to pay 90 percent of the district’s per-pupil costs for each one of its students attending the charter. The formula has some exceptions, and charters contend that the average they receive is closer to 70 percent of actual per-pupil costs.
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