TRENTON, NJ— More than 50 public charter school families and advocates gathered outside of the state Department of Education to show their support for charter schools and present a report recommending ways to improve charter schools across the state, including a call for fairer funding.

The rally comes as officials from the DOE wrap up a tour of New Jersey to hear from those who are most impacted by charter schools about what the state could do to improve its charter school laws.

Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet, along with other NJDOE officials, toured 11 charter schools and held 20 community focus groups and stakeholder meetings around the state, including in Camden, Newark, New Brunswick, Plainfield, Jersey City and Paterson.

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"Charter schools only receive about 73 cents on the dollar in local and state aid compared to traditional public schools," Harry Lee, interim president of the New Jersey Charter Schools Association, said during the rally. "The School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) should be revised so that public charter school students receive the same funding as traditional public school students."

The report from the New Jersey Charter Schools Association includes a summary of findings it gathered from the meetings the DOE held, and recommendations for next steps.

In addition to calling for fairer funding of charter schools, the report calls for greater access to school buildings, more operational autonomy and the rewarding of high performing charter schools, among other recommendations.

“If the true focus of this review is to change policy, to do what is best for students and communities, the department [of education] should listen to what they heard from parents and charter school educators,” Lee said.

Lee also called for the state department to do a comprehensive, data-driven review of charter school performance in New Jersey to compliment its outreach report, which is expected to be completed in the coming months.

“In 2018, black, Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students outperformed their statewide peers across the state by 9 or 10 points on PARCC,” Lee said. “Charter schools are doing something right, especially in our urban communities, in providing great choices for families.”

Since taking office in January, Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration has rejected all 13 charter school applications submitted to the state for approval, as the new governor has called for a "time out" on charter schools. The New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), which endorsed Murphy in the gubernatorial race, has called for a moratorium on the approval of new charter schools, where the majority of teachers are non-unionized.

The Murphy administration has already adopted recommendations championed by the NJEA to weaken standardized testing requirements and charter advocates are concerned about the NJEA's outsized influence in the administration is driving its review of charter schools.

Dawn Fantasia, principal at Bergen Arts and Science Charter School, spoke Wednesday about how she believes a moratorium on charter schools is not the answer.

“Our students don’t have the luxury of time,” Fantasia said. “While the adults debate the intricacies of charter school law, the clock is ticking for our children who will only be 5 years old once, will only be 15 years old once and then the school year is over. That’s the real injustice.

“Make no mistake, there are so many effective, successful district public schools that us as public charters can learn from … this isn’t simply about who is offering a better education or a superior program, its offering valid choices in communities that are traditionally limited in options because of financial circumstances and constraints,” Fantasia said.

The group of parents in attendance also delivered thousands of postcards in support of their schools to Repollet, who came out to accept them following the state board of education’s meeting. The postcards were filled with hand-written stories from parents from across the state about how charter schools have positively impacted their children's lives.

The postcards were collected as a part of the New Jersey Charter School Association’s #ILoveMyCharter campaign.

One parent from Newark wrote, “I have 4 scholars in North Star Academy. I am the grandma and legal guardian. Without North Star, my four boys would likely become statistics living in the city of Newark. We need charter schools.”

Parent Shayvonne Anderson spoke outside of the DOE building about how a KIPPNJ Newark school not only helped her special needs son, but also helped her as well.

“Parent choice matters, and all families in New Jersey deserve to choose the absolute best school for their children,” Anderson said. “With the right support, counseling, dedication and responsiveness of the KIPP teachers and staff, he not only improved and began learning, he no longer needs any services at all.”

Parent Jasmine Morrison asked Repollet when he would visit her children's school, Uncommon Schools North Star Academy Alexander Street Elementary in Newark. The commissioner was scheduled to visit in November, but canceled at the last minute.

“I’ve visited some charter schools, some public schools — I have not yet visited a renaissance school or vocational school,” Repollet responded. “I’ve only been on the job now for 10 months, I’ve been to all 21 counties, so I’ll be coming soon to a charter school near you.”

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