TRENTON – Senator Raymond J. Lesniak and Assemblywoman Mila M. Jasey today introduced legislation which would allow private and parochial schools to convert to public charter schools, in an effort to stave off the closure epidemic facing many private schools around New Jersey, and give students, particularly in urban areas, more options for their public education.
“These private schools – mostly faith-based – are the heart and soul of many neighborhoods in our cities,” said Senator Lesniak, D-Union. “I have too often seen the pained look on the faces of children and parents when they are forced to close. Allowing them to seamlessly convert to charter schools will keep the community intact and avoid unnecessary disruption of students’ education.”
“It is clear to me that the status quo is not working for all children,” said Assemblywoman Jasey, D-Essex. “I want to explore every opportunity to provide equity and access to a world-class education for all students, no matter where they live and no matter what their circumstance.”
The legislators’ bill would amend State statute to allow nonpublic schools to apply to the State Commissioner of Education in order to convert to public charter schools. Under the bill, nonpublic schools would have to include all information that is currently required for charter school applicants, in addition to certifying that upon conversion to charter school status, the school would prohibit religious instruction, events and activities that promote one religion’s views over any other. The bill also specifies that the name of the proposed charter school cannot include any religious reference.
Through the legislation, students at the former nonpublic school would have first preference to enroll in the converted charter school. After that, any remaining enrollment spaces in the first year, and all enrollment spaces in subsequent years, would be granted based on the provisions already in place under existing law for charter schools.
“Many community-based organizations have invested heavily in urban communities such as Newark through the building and running of quality schools over the years,” said Karen Thomas, interim president of New Jersey Charter Public Schools, and CEO of the Marion P. Thomas Charter School in Newark. “The conversion of existing private and parochial schools to charter schools will allow the State and these community organizations to partner in a meaningful way that benefits our children and revitalizes the community.”
The legislators noted that, to date, Washington, D.C. is the only city to convert nonpublic schools into public charter schools, although New York City is considering a similar measure.
In D.C., established teacher-and-staff structures were kept mostly intact. Thousands of what would have been displaced parochial school students were transitioned, without interruption, to the newly formed public charter schools, and enrollment in the newly converted schools has increased by 27%.
“I look forward to partnering with all stakeholders, including teachers, charter schools, faith-based providers and school districts to ensure that we achieve our common goal of educational excellence,” said Assemblywoman Jasey.