Public charter and renaissance schools need nearly $1 billion in funding to address their facilities needs according to a report released today by the New Jersey Charter Schools Association and JerseyCAN.

The report found that public charter and renaissance school are in need of $942 million in construction, renovation, or capital improvement funds over the next decade to provide safe and secure school buildings for students.

Overcrowding is the biggest challenge facing charter and renaissance schools along with the need for building safety improvements, and the need for maintenance repairs and upgrades, according to the report. The ability to find a suitable building to serve as a school facility proved to be an issue for many survey respondents.

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“All public school students deserve to go to school in safe and healthy learning environments. New Jersey is one of the few states in the country that does not provide facilities funding to public charter schools,” said Harry Lee, the president of the New Jersey Charter Schools Association. “Every public school should have access to State funding for safe, secure and modern learning environments.”

More than two decades ago, just as charter schools were getting started in New Jersey, the state set aside billions for new school construction, but charter schools were not allowed to tap into any of the money.

The funding, overseen by the Schools Development Authority, has since run dry and state officials are considering how to replenish the fund at a time when the state is mired in debt.

Over the last two decades, the state has spent more than $15 billion on school construction and renovation, a hefty chunk of it in what are former Abbot districts in predominantly urban areas.

Lee said the lack of state funding has forced all charter schools to use operating dollars to fund school construction and safety upgrades - money that could be better spent in the classroom. Charter schools cannot use any state or local funding to construct or upgrade facilities.

“There is an unmet need for school construction funding across the state, largely in our cities and this includes real needs for public charter and renaissance schools," JerseyCAN’s Executive Director Patricia Morgan.

"Currently, public charter and renaissance schools are serving nearly one in five students in the poorest communities across New Jersey," Morgan said. "These schools are a vital part of the education fabric in our urban areas, and as such, their facilities needs have to be addressed.”

Renaissance schools, which are also public schools, are similar to charter schools, but there are key differences. Renaissance schools must be approved by a local school board and they enroll students from local neighborhoods, rather than the entire district. Camden is the only city that has renaissance schools. The three renaissance schools in Camden are run by networks that operate charter schools in other cities. Like charter schools, they also face restrictions.

The survey also found that 82% of public charter schools indicate that their education programs currently suffer due to the lack of any type of facilities funding.

When asked how schools would invest savings from any new facilities funding, 70% responded that they would hire, or increase pay for teachers, according to the survey.

The report found that public charter and renaissance schools estimate initiating more than 200 new construction or substantial renovation projects over the next 10 years to provide safe and secure school environments for their students.