Critics also raise valid concerns about the actual cost of operating virtual charters, which allow a student anywhere to attend the school. The student's tuition is picked up by his local district, but that amount could be much greater than the cyber charter's actual per-student spending.
A decision by the State Board of Education on whether to approve the regulations allowing cyber charters is not expected for several months. Meanwhile, Assemblyman Patrick J. Diegnan (D., Union), has proposed a one-year moratorium on establishing online charter schools. That makes sense. It would give the state needed time to develop more specific rules on how virtual charters operate and are funded.
The proposed new regulations would allow existing charters to open satellite campuses in struggling districts, including the 31 former so-called Abbott districts. Skeptics fear the move is another attempt to abandon urban schools. Charters should be a viable option for students in failing schools. But charters alone aren't the answer for the majority of students, who are unlikely to leave their neighborhood schools.
Furthermore, not all charters have performed better than traditional public schools, and some have been mismanaged, as has been the case in Philadelphia. Currently, 13 charters in New Jersey are on probation for academic, fiscal, or operational problems, and five more are slated to close.
The Freedom Academy Charter School in Camden was recently placed on probation by the state for operational problems. It is one of five charters identified on a new "priority list" of the 71 lowest-performing schools in the state. If it's going to open more charters, the state needs to do more to ensure the quality of the education they provide.
The State Board of Education must carefully consider a proposal to grant one-year conditional renewals to "promising" charter schools that are not meeting performance standards. Instead of easing regulations, New Jersey should follow the lead of Pennsylvania, where Gov. Corbett is creating a statewide commission to evaluate and regulate charter schools and close those that are performing poorly.
If Christie wants more charters to replace failing schools, the state needs to provide better oversight and conduct more stringent assessments of charters to get better academic outcomes.