New Jersey’s Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf, while testifying before the State Senate Budget Committee on Monday, May 9, 2011, told Senator Barbara Buono that the New Jersey electorate should not have the opportunity to vote for Charter Schools or the monetary appropriations that support them. Senator Buono remarked that, given that charter schools are funded with public dollars, the decision to provide such funding should be made by taxpayers.
Interestingly, charter schools are exempt from the traditional funding sequence in which the voters approve or reject school appropriations. Perhaps more interesting, one of the reasons why Cerf suggested that charter school funding not be subject to voter approval is that voters would reject such proposals because of the costs.
The shocking issue that emanates from this scenario is that Governor Christie’s platform during his election campaign was that taxpayers are paying too much for public education and deserved monetary relief. It is incredulous that the Christie Administration could suggest that dollars be appropriated and spent without voter approval. This concept is a continuance of the administration’s proposal to borrow 4.4 billion dollars for the Transportation trust fund without voter approval.
During the Budget Committee hearing, Senator Buono commented that a charter school in her legislative district is siphoning dollars from the regular public schools to the degree where it has prevented a school district from having an all-day kindergarten, when, in fact, the charter school that is funded without voter approval has an all-day kindergarten. Senate Budget Committee Chairperson Paul Sarlo also commented on the negative impact that the funding of charter schools was having on the delivery of services in the traditional public schools.
A few charter schools have proven to be effective. Steve Adubato’s charter school in Newark has been an outstanding academic service provider. However, the majority of charter schools have not provided high standards of academic achievement. Stanford University’s 2009 study indicated that charter school students have no measurable higher achievement in academic performance than students in traditional schools. Most egregious, however, is the impact that charter schools have had on true community participation. If the electorate does not support or cannot afford charter schools, then continued State support for such schools becomes an extension of a dictatorship, rather than a democracy.
Dr. Salvatore Pizzuro is a disability policy specialist and civil rights advocate in New Jersey.