NEWARK -- The planned expansion of seven charter schools in Newark will only deepen budget woes in the already cash-strapped school district and further saddle traditional public schools with the neediest children, an education advocacy group said in a legal brief filed this month.
The Education Law Center is asking the courts to reverse decisions by former state Commissioner of Education David C. Hespe that allowed seven charter schools to boost enrollment by about 8,500 student in the next five years.
"The threats are twofold: loss of funding and resources for students in district schools and segregation of students by disability, ELL status and race," said David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, a public interest law firm.
If the expansions continue as planned, 38 percent of the school district's budget would be redirected to charter schools by 2018-19, according to the ELC. This year 33 percent of the budget goes to charter schools, the group states in its brief.
The state Department of Education declined to comment. As a matter of policy, the DOE does not comment on pending litigation.
"The ELC is trotting out the same arguments the New Jersey Supreme Court rejected years ago," said Thomas Johnston, legal counsel for TEAM Academy Charter, NorthStar Academy, Robert Treat Academy, University Heights Charter, Great Oaks Charter and New Horizons Community Charter School.
Newark charter school officials say thousands of parents are on waiting lists to get into the schools. They also say their students tend to outperform those in traditional public schools. A 2015 Stanford University study that looked 41 largest cities with charter schools found Newark's charter schools significantly outperformed district schools in math and language arts.
Sciarra said the issue was not the quality of the schools but one of equity.
"This appeal is not about the merits of charter schools or district schools, but rather about the state's overarching obligation to ensure a thorough and efficient education for all public school students in Newark," Sciarra said in an earlier statement on the appeal.
In its initial brief filed Feb. 14., the ELC said the commissioner's decision to grant the expansions were "arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable." The Education Law Center appealed the school expansion decisions last spring but due to procedural delays did not file the initial brief until this month.
The group also said that by allowing these schools to expand, the commissioner was "erroneously" authorizing the creation of new charter facilities in unidentified locations. The ELC says the charter schools did not seek permission to open satellite facilities to accommodate student growth.
According to the brief, 10 new schools would be needed to absorb the proposed growth. The pending appeal does not stop charter schools from enrolling additional students.
Charter schools are operated independently of the Newark school district but are taxpayer funded. Charter schools in Newark enroll about 15,000 students; the district enrolls about 36,000, according to Districts are supposed to pass along 90 percent of their per-pupil costs for the students being served by charter schools, according to state law.
"The expansions will continue to siphon-off crucial funds from the NPS budget," the brief read in part. "With no regard for the depleted resources left behind."
The school district is likely to have a budget hole this year but it's not clear how large it will be.
The charter schools slated to expand include:
- Great Oaks Charter School: additional 477 students by 2019-20
- Maria L. Varisco Rogers Charter: additional 25 students by 2017-18
- New Horizons: additional 168 students by 2017-18
- North Star Academy: additional 2,552 students by 2020-21
- TEAM Academy: 4,668 students by 2020-21
- Robert Treat Academy: 209 students by 20-21
- University Heights: 400 students by 2019-20
Karen Yi may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @karen_yi or on Facebook.
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