State education commissioner hosting community focus group on charter schools at Paterson library

The New Jersey Department of Education is hosting a community focus group meeting at the Danforth Memorial Library on Tuesday, Oct. 16 as part commissioner Lamont Repollet statewide charter school listening tour.

Community focus group is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at 250 Broadway in Paterson.

“Charter schools are a valuable part of the existing educational landscape of New Jersey, and it is critical that we engage with the public to hear possible concerns and collect important data,” said Repollet in a statement on Thursday. “We are looking forward to hearing from diverse voices about their perspectives and experiences regarding charter schools for the benefit of all New Jersey students, families, and communities.”

The commissioner kicked off a multi-county listening tour this week. He is scheduled to visit over a dozen charter schools, including the Paterson Charter School for Science and Technology, as part of his tour.

Repollet’s tour coincides with the 20th anniversary of the first charter school opening in New Jersey. His outreach tour will also include organized stakeholder collaboratives, webinars, and the opportunity to submit written feedback, according to the state.

After the tour the state will publish a report detailing its findings.

Repollet’s “comprehensive review” of the state’s charter school laws has invited criticism and praise.

“We hope the charter review isn’t a forum for anti-charter school special interests to attack and undermine the choices our families have made,” said Harry Lee, interim president of the New Jersey Charter Schools Association.

“I welcome the commissioner to come,” said longtime school board member Jonathan Hodges, a critic of charter schools.

Hodges said governor Phil Murphy promised him he would put in place a moratorium on charter schools.

“I want to see him keep his word,” said Hodges.

The city has six charter schools. Hodges has long argued these schools are taking away resources from the vast majority of district students.

Charter schools received $54.38 million from the district in 2018-19 school year. District officials cited loss of funds to charters as a key reason for big budget shortfalls. Last year, Newark-based advocacy group the Education Law Center urged the state to not approve any new charter schools in Paterson, arguing their “drain on district finances results in the vast majority of regular school students seeing their educational opportunities severely compromised.”

Charter schools are generally no better than traditional public schools, according to a Stanford University study.

Many of the city’s charter schools claim to be “high-performing” and better than district schools. Most are no better than traditional public schools.

The College Achieve Charter School of Paterson, newest charter in the city, claimed it was a “high-performing” school last month, but would not provide its students’ latest state exam scores.

The Paterson Times filed a lawsuit against the College Achieve Charter School of Paterson to compel it to release the test scores and other documents.

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