Members of the State Legislature have engaged in a mission to provide the voting public with the right to play a key role in the decision-making process in determining if a charter school is to ne established in their District. Actually, the current bill is a “hold-over” from the previous State Legislature. Currently, Senate bill 458 stipulates that Charter Schools must receive voter approval in school districts where boards of education are elected, or the approval of the Board of School Estimate in Districts where the school board is appointed. The Senate version of the bill is sponsored by Shirley Turner, (D. - District 15 Hunterdon and Mercer), Barbara Buono (D -District 18 Middlesex) and Linda Greenstein (D - District 14 Mercer and Middlesex).
The Assembly version of the bill, A-1877, is identical in language. The Assembly sponsors are Patrick J. Diegnan, Jr. (D. -District 18 Middlesex), Peter J. Barnes, III (D. - District 18 Middlesex), John S. Wisniewski (D. District 19Middlesex), Ralph Caputo, D. - District 28 Essex), Reed Gusciora (D. - District 15 Hunterdon and Mercer), Mila M. Jasey (D - District 27, Essex and Morris) and Louis D. Greenwald, D - District 6, Burlington and Camden).
According to the language of the bill:
“An application to establish a charter school shall be submitted to the commissioner and the local board of education or State district superintendent, in the case of a school district under full State intervention, in the school year preceding the year in which the charter school will be established. Notice of the filing of the application shall be sent immediately by the commissioner to the members of the State Legislature, school superintendents, and mayors and governing bodies of all legislative districts, school districts, or municipalities in which there are students who will be eligible for enrollment in the charter school".
The charter school movement has been mired in controversy over recent years. Although it has been supported by the Governor and the current Department of Education leadership, local communities have complained that charter schools have been forced upon them without their consent. In addition, the debate continues regarding the type of school district that may serve as a model for the creation of a charter school. Some education specialists believe that only school districts with a poor academic performance should serve as candidates for the creation of the separate school model. Others believe that only urban school districts should be candidates for charter schools. Finally, education organization and voter groups complain that this is the only movement that spends taxpayer money without their approval.
The bill also stipulates who may propose the establishment of a charter school:
“A charter school may be established by teaching staff members, parents with children attending the schools of the district, or a combination of teaching staff members and parents. A charter school may also be established by an institution of higher education or a private entity located within the State in conjunction with teaching staff members and parents of children attending the schools of the district”.
Interestingly, constitutional scholars have suggested that the current charter school movement violates the very concept of representative government. Traditionally, public education has always been a product of community planning and execution. Taxpayers want to be the final decision makers in the funding and implementation of services.