Among those who testified were charter school advocates, administrators from public school districts that argued they have been hurt by the outflow of students and funding to charter schools, parents of students who attend charter schools, a charter school authorizer in New York state, and public school board members.
Sharon Krengel, policy and outreach coordinator at the Education Law Center, which advocates for improving public education for disadvantaged children and children with disabilities and other special needs, argued in favor of improved transparency and accountability. She also expressed concerns about charter schools serving fewer low-income students, students learning English, and special-education students than their public school counterparts.
While the charter school law does require charter schools to seek a representative cross-section of the student population, Krengel said, charter schools whose populations do not reflect their districts should be required to come up with a plan to change that.
Assemblyman Joseph Malone (R., Burlington), a member of the Education Committee, said he was also concerned that charter schools could wind up with the students who were the most motivated, or had the most engaged families.
Krengel and Carlos Perez, chief executive officer of the New Jersey Charter Schools Association, were among those who argued that charter schools should receive as much per-pupil state funding as public schools. Charter schools currently receive 90 percent of the per-pupil state funding of public schools.
"Charter schools are public schools," Perez said. "They must have equal access to public funds, including operational, facility, and federal. We advocate charter school students receive their fair funding and equitable access to public school facilities."
On the other side of the debate, some public school administrators, parents, and a student argued that the creation of charter schools has hurt public districts, including, in some cases, high-achieving ones.
A deputy superintendent from East Brunswick said that after an $11 million cut in state aid, the district received a bill for $1.2 million to be taken away to fund a charter school.
Wendy Saiff, school board president in Highland Park, said the district was bleeding dollars to charter schools. She argued that the governor's agenda would result in a "feeding frenzy for educational dollars."
"If our state representatives do not act to stop the governor's plan regarding education, his characterization of New Jersey public schools as being abject failures will become reality," she said.
Contact staff writer Adrienne Lu at 609-989-8990 or firstname.lastname@example.org.