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New Jersey: Is Chris Christie Still Governor?

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The New Jersey Supreme Court has granted a petition filed by Education Law Center (ELC) to review the State Commissioner of Education’s 2016 decision approving an enrollment increase of 8500 students in KIPP, Uncommon and other charter operators’ schools in the Newark Public School (NPS) district.
In accepting In Re Team Academy Charter School, the Supreme Court will now decide several consequential issues raised by the State’s push to rapidly grow charter school enrollments in NPS over the last decade. Under former Governor Chris Christie, Newark charter enrollments grew 320% from 4,559 in 2009, to 19,152 in 2020. NPS payments to charter schools increased from $63 million in 2009, or 7% of the NPS operating budget, to $265 million in 2020, or 26% of the budget.

The legal issues before the NJ Supreme Court in Team Academy implicate the Commissioner’s failure to comply with the Court’s 2000 Palisades Charter ruling imposing an affirmative obligation under the New Jersey Constitution to carefully evaluate the impact of charter school applications in two interrelated areas:

  • The education resources available to NPS students from the loss of funding that will occur from increasing charter school enrollments;
  • The segregation of NPS students by disability, English language proficiency and race.

The Team Academy appeal addresses the obligation of charter authorizers to protect the constitutional rights of public school students when faced with overwhelming and unrefuted evidence that expanding charters will deprive district students of essential education resources and intensify persistent patterns of student segregation in the resident district.

In 2016, ELC, on behalf of NPS students, submitted detailed evidence to the Commissioner opposing the charter school expansion. ELC’s evidence showed that, if the expansion was approved, NPS would continue to lose funding from its budget, causing further cuts to essential teachers, support staff and programs, including for English language learners (ELL) and students with disabilities. ELC also documented that the expansion would increase the concentration of more costly to educate students with disabilities and ELLs in Newark district schools and worsen the entrenched isolation of Black and Latino students in the already intensely segregated district.

After the Commissioner ignored this evidence and approved the applications, ELC appealed. The Appellate Division upheld the decision, relying on the failure of the NPS superintendent, hired by the State, to object to the expansion. At the time the charter applications were decided by the State, NPS was under State control.

Because NPS students are in the class of plaintiff school children in the landmark Abbott v. Burke school funding litigation, the Supreme Court will also decide whether the Commissioner bears a heightened burden when reviewing charter applications in those districts. Abbott district students remain the subject of continuing Abbott orders to remedy the State’s longstanding violation of their right to a constitutional thorough and efficient education.

Michael Stein of the Pashman Stein Walder Hayden law firm is serving as pro bono co-counsel on this appeal, along with ELC Executive Director David Sciarra, lead counsel for the Abbott v. Burke school children.

Argument before the NJ Supreme Court is expected in the fall.

Press Contact:

Sharon Krengel

Policy and Outreach Director

Education Law Center

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