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NJ Spotlight: Tiny Charter School Office Digs Into Mountain of Applications

Gov. Christie's push for more charters puts the pressure on education department's undersized office.

Politics may continue to roil around the future of charter schools in New Jersey, but the state Department of Education's tiny charter school office already has plenty to keep it busy.

The office — currently staffed by a half-dozen people but expanding soon to more than twice that — now has before it 55 applications for new charters in New Jersey. It has two months to decide who on that list is worthy of a final charter.

It’s a daunting task, with anonymous outside reviewers again being brought in to give the applications first and second reads, before the staff makes recommendations to acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf.

On top of that are 23 charter schools already approved and slated to open this fall, the biggest class of new charters yet. And almost as soon as that work is completed, the next round of applications will be coming in October.

Such is the state of the state’s charter school operation as members of the legislature have sought to remake how charter schools are approved and monitored in the state.

Easy Passage

Last Wednesday, the Assembly easily passed a package of bills that would change the approval process, opening new doors for charters but also placing new restrictions on them once approved.

Although the bills face longer odds in the Senate, the package is in large part a response to rising criticism -- or at least concerns -- about the unprecedented expansion of charters in the state under Gov. Chris Christie.

But whatever the Legislature decides for the future, the charter school office has continued unabated for now, with the application process underway for the latest round of 55 applicants. (Fifty-eight were initially filed, but three were thrown out on technicalities, officials said.)

Continue reading this story in NJ Spotlight. Of particular interest to Livingston, Millburn, and neighboring school districts with pending applications, Cerf repeats what he has said previously about taking a close look in the coming rounds of applications at the local impact of a new charter school, both in terms of academic programs and cost. "I think it is entirely appropriate to look at the degree in which a charter would have an impact on a district, positive or negative," he said.

Original Post: Tiny Charter School Office Digs Into Mountain of Applications, July 5, 2011.

NJ Spotlight, an issue-driven news website that provides critical insight to New Jersey’s communities and businesses. It is non-partisan, independent, policy-centered and community-minded.

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