Jan. 18 (Bloomberg) -- New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said his administration approved 23 new charter schools, the largest number in an application cycle since the program was created in 1995.
Expanding the number of publicly funded schools that are operated independently of their districts’ boards of education will “shake up the status quo,” Christie said. The first-term Republican governor said he supports single-sex classes in the schools as well as institutions focused on teaching children with special needs such as autism.
“We’re doing this for one very simple reason: we want all students, regardless of their zip code, to have the education their parents want them to have,” Christie, 48, told reporters at Robert Treat Academy, a charter school in Newark. “That is not happening now, particularly in the cities. And that’s obscene.”
The governor, in his first State of the State speech on Jan. 11, said it would be a top priority this year to expand the charter program beyond the six his administration approved in September and the 73 operating now. He said opposition from Democrats who control the Legislature and resistance from the teachers union have delayed their approval.
“All we’re doing is empowering communities and a movement that has previously been suppressed by political leaders in our state because they were in the pocket of the defenders of the status quo,” Christie said.
“The governor clearly has a political agenda of approving a large number of charter schools,” said Steve Baker, a spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association, a 200,000-member union in Trenton. “We’re very concerned that the quality of charter schools is going to suffer when you don’t have a careful, deliberative process for approving only schools with a high probability of success.”
Christie’s announcement came the same day his Education Department released data showing 79 percent of charter schools in inner-city areas outperformed district schools in language-arts test scores, and 69 percent outperformed in math.
The governor said he doesn’t want to “charterize” New Jersey’s public-school system and hopes to use the program as a laboratory for new education initiatives. He said he expects the new schools to open in September, allowing for a total of 97 charters serving 25,000 students to be operating. Christie also proposed streamlining the process to approve future charters.
Baker said his group worries Christie also is looking to relax teacher certification requirements, which he said may signal a shift toward making public schools function like private ones. The union is concerned Christie’s administration may have rushed through the application process, Baker said.
“The NJEA supports high-quality charter schools,” Baker said in an interview. “If the state is approving charter schools that are not going to be successful, that hurts everybody.”
Among the schools that received approval was Forest Hill Charter School, a Newark institution for students with special needs in kindergarten through eighth grades.
“It’s a fortunate day for our families in Newark who are living with autism and pervasive developmental delays,” said Michele Adubato, executive director of the North Ward Center, a Newark based nonprofit organization that founded Robert Treat Academy and Forest Hill. “Forest Hill is exactly the kind of innovative, progressive and cost-effective charter school that the governor has called for.”
Robert Treat was founded in 1997 by Stephen Adubato Sr., a Democratic leader in Newark, New Jersey’s largest city, and father of Michele. The 525-student academy is “a shining example of the excellent results and restored hope that high-quality charter schools give to their students and communities,” Christie said.
Christie, who has clashed with the NJEA, the state’s largest teachers union, since taking office a year ago, also called for lawmakers to approve “opportunity scholarships,” or privately funded vouchers for students in failing schools to attend the public or private institution of their choice.
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