May 24, 2011 • Vol. XXXIV • No. 39
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Legislative Update:  Charter School Bills Released

On Monday, four bills affecting charter schools were released by the Assembly Education Committee.

A-3852 requires local voter approval at the annual school election or by the board of school estimate before the establishment of a charter school.  The measure was approved by a vote of 8-0 with 4 abstentions.  On May 14, NJSBA’s Delegate Assembly approved a resolution supporting voter approval of new charter schools. “NJSBA policy expresses the belief that the community, through voter referendum, should determine matters that affect the composition and structure of the system of public schools that operate within its boundaries,” read a statement that NJSBA submitted to the Committee in support of the bill.

Charter School Authorizers A bill that would allow the State Board of Education to approve up to three four-year public institutions of higher education as charter school authorizers passed by a vote of 9-1 with 2 abstentions.  NJSBA testified in support of A-3083, and seeks an amendment allowing public school districts to also act as charter school authorizers.  The Association noted in testimony to the Assembly Education Committee that of the 41 states, inclusive of Washington, D.C., that currently authorize charter schools, 20 states include local school districts as charter school authorizers.

Charter School Accountability A bill, A-3356, that provides for accountability measures for charter schools, requires charter schools to maintain waiting lists and authorizes shared services between school districts and charter schools, passed the Assembly Education committee by a vote of 11-1 with one abstention.

The bill provides that charters would have to keep a waiting list of students. Details about the waiting list, including the number of students on the list, would be posted on the charter school website as well as the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) website. The legislation provides for accountability measures for charter schools, including making them subject to NJQSAC regulations, and requires the Commissioner of Education, in the annual assessment of the charter school, to include the number of students who enrolled in and withdrew from the charter school during the year. That assessment would have to be posted on the NJDOE’s website by Oct. 15. A-3356 also allows charters and public school districts to enter into shared services agreements. NJSBA supports the bill.

Conversion to Charters A-2806 would permit private and parochial schools to convert to charter schools, providing that the school prohibits religious teaching and symbols. The NJDOE would be required to establish an expedited process for the review of these applications.  The measure passed by a vote of 8-2 with two abstentions.

Also on Monday, the state Senate gave final legislative approval to the governor's conditional veto of a bill requiring criminal background checks of board members. The bill, amended earlier to require background checks for charter school trustees, would bar those convicted of certain crimes from serving on boards. It was approved by the full Senate on Monday by a vote of 39-0. A-444 now goes to the governor for his signature.

The bill was passed by the Legislature in February but was conditionally vetoed by the governor on May 5 and went back to the lawmakers for revisions that included additional grounds for disqualification of school board members in accordance with the new anti-bullying law, as well as providing for the disqualification of school board members convicted of a fourth-degree crime involving a minor victim.  

The bill does allow for a board of education to choose to reimburse board members for the costs of a background check, a provision that was sought by NJSBA.

Shared Services Bill Released On Thursday, May 19, the Senate Education Committee released S-769 which requires the executive county superintendent to designate a county special services school district or educational services commission as the county education services agency to assist local school districts in sharing services.  The bill was amended to include jointure commissions as an education services agency, thus addressing NJSBA's concerns about the bill.

The Senate Education Committee also took testimony from representatives of the Department of Education, the NJ Effectiveness Task Force and other organizations on the task force's recent recommendations to improve student achievement by reforming the teacher evaluation system.    

Also on May 19, the Senate Environment and Energy Committee released S-106 which establishes the Hooked on Fishing-Not on Drugs program in the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and appropriates $200,000 for that purpose.




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