AbstractNew Jersey charter schools have grown significantly over the last decade in enrollment, in the number of sending school districts, and in financial impact:
•In the 2017-18 school year, enrollment in New Jersey’s traditional and renaissance charter schools surpassed 53,000 students, accounting for 3.6% of the state’s publicly funded student population.
•Charter enrollment has more than tripled over the last decade.
•Almost half of all New Jersey school districts send students and funding to charter schools. The number of such districts has increased from 198 in 2007-08 to 273 in 2017-18.
•In the 2017-18 school year, traditional and renaissance charter schools will receive an anticipated $750 million in funding from New Jersey’s school districts, more than four and a half times the $164 million transferred to charter schools a decade ago.
New Jersey charter schools enroll a fundamentally different student population than the districts where their students reside:
•New Jersey charter schools continue to enroll proportionally fewer special education and Limited English Proficient students than their sending district public schools.
•The special education students enrolled in charter schools tend to have less-costly disabilities compared to special education students in the district public schools.
•Measures of student poverty are becoming increasingly unreliable because of school district participation in the US Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), which allows high-poverty school districts and charter schools to provide free meals to all of their students. However, data for non-CEP districts shows that many charter schools continue to enroll fewer at-risk students then their sending district public schools.
In light of these findings, we recommend that:
•New Jersey should amend the state’s charter school law, The Charter School Program Act, to align the power to authorize new charter schools and expand existing charter schools with the financial impact of those decisions.
•The New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) should modify the criteria used for evaluating charter schools for approval, renewal, expansion, and closure, to give substantial weight to how closely individual charter schools mirror the student population characteristics of their sending school districts, including Limited English Proficiency, economic disadvantage, and special education disability classifications.
•NJDOE should examine why New Jersey charter schools do not reflect the population of their sending school districts and make public the data that is already collected, to enable researchers to further study this problem.
•NJDOE should explore more accurate ways of measuring differences in student socio-economic status, including survey and sampling methods.
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