Education in the Media
N.J.'s First Online Charter School Delayed a YearJuly 16, 2012
NEWARK — The state’s first proposed full-time virtual charter school will have to wait at least year to begin educating students.
The state Department of Education today announced approval of nine new charter schools for September, but said the New Jersey Virtual Academy Charter School, a full-time online charter school, would instead be given a "planning" year to further develop "academic and operational components."
However, two offering a mix of online and traditional learning did receive approval. Both Newark Prep and Merit Preparatory of Newark Charter School intend to offer "blended" learning in a school setting, Newark Prep serving high school students, and Merit Prep starting by enrolling sixth-graders.
Another full-time virtual school, Monmouth County-based New Jersey Virtual Charter School, requested an additional planning year, as did Merit Preparatory of Trenton, also a blended school.
Seven "regular" charter schools were also approved to open in September, following a final "preparedness" review. This will bring the state total of charter schools 86.
"We must hold a high bar for any school that serves New Jersey students," said acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf.
Debate over virtual charter schools has been building up steam in the state in recent months. Eight education advocacy groups last week wrote to Cerf opposing approval of virtual schools, raising objections from the cost, to the fact they say the state does not have legislative authority to approve online charters under existing law.
"This new form of charter school was never contemplated, and has never been authorized, by the Legislature," said the letter signed by the Newark-based Education Law Center, New Jersey Education Association, the New Jersey School Boards Association and five other organizations.
They also warned of "educational chaos" if virtual schools are approved and "the agency’s actions are later determined by the courts to be unlawful."
The New Jersey Virtual Academy Charter School had been recruiting students for months and intended to open this fall for 850 students in grades K-10, according to Jeff Kwitowski, a spokesman at Virginia-based K12, a for-profit online learning company. The company would contract to provide curriculum and other services at the school.
The Virtual Academy school board would be headed by Michael Pallante, former principal of Robert Treat Academy charter school in Newark.
"Parents want school options for their children," Kwitowski said. "It’s not for every student, but it can be a great option for many kids."
Pallante could not be reached for comment today.
K12 , however, is expected to provide curriculum and services to Newark Prep.
Other attempts have been made to slow down virtual schools in New Jersey. A bill proposing a one-year moratorium on virtual charters was passed by the Assembly last month, but no similar action took place in the Senate.
Assembly Education Chairman Patrick Diegnan, (D-Middlesex), today noted that while the "blended" schools are moving ahead, the planning year buys some time. "Let’s hope calmer minds will prevail, and have a thorough review of the entire issue," he said.
Other charter schools approved to open in September are City Invincible and Knowledge A to Z, both in Camden; Thomas Edison Energy Charter School, in Franklin Township, North Brunswick and South Brunswick; Beloved Charter School in Jersey City; Paulo Freire Charter School and 100 Legacy in Newark; and Benjamin Banneker in Willingboro.
A total 13 schools were given planning years, and 10 were denied approval. Among those turned down were Princeton International Academy in the Princeton area, and Shalom Academy in Teaneck.