The state Assembly's Education Committee advanced a bill last week that creates a 12-month moratorium on the approval of new virtual charter schools in New Jersey, pending a review by a government task force.
Bill A-3105, sponsored by Assemblymen Patrick Diegnan Jr. (D-Middlesex), and Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen), prevents the Commissioner of Education from approving any application for a virtual charter school for one year, while a task force develops recommendations for the structure that governs virtual charter education.
"This task force will play an important role in determining whether virtual charter schools should play a role in the future of education in New Jersey," Johnson said via release. "It's important to proactively examine their place in our system now instead of allowing them to proliferate without the proper oversight."
In virtual charter schools, students work from home and communicate with teachers by phone or in online classrooms. New Jersey’s current charter school law, which was enacted in 1995, doesn't contain language that adequately addresses cyber-charter schools, according to the New Jersey School Boards Association.
“Funding and enrollment provisions of the 1995 charter school law are based on a certain number of students from a specific community or region attending a brick-and-mortar school,” said NJSBA Executive Director Marie S. Bilik via release. “The enrollment zones and costs of a cyber-charter are completely different from traditional charter schools, and are not addressed in the current charter school law."
The Assembly's task force will be comprised of 9 members, with three appointed by Gov. Chris Christie, three by state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, and three by Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex).
The task force's recommendations are to address "statutory and regulatory authority for the operation of virtual charter schools; part-time and full-time virtual charter schools; non-profit and for-profit virtual charter schools; parental involvement requirements; financial management systems; guidelines for Internet-based technology for classes; and guidelines for the performance of virtual charter schools."
The task must issue a report to Gov. Christie and the state Legislature by March 1, 2013, at which time the task-force will expire.
Five charter schools that are full-time or online hybrid schools were already approved, but have not yet been granted final charters by the state Department of Education. The New Jersey Virtual Academy, which has 850 students signed up for next year, would be managed and staffed by the nation's largest provider of full-time public virtual schools, K12 Inc.
“We thank Assemblyman Diegnan for his responsiveness on this issue,” Bilik said. “The establishment, funding and operations of virtual charter schools must be addressed in a comprehensive manner. Current state law and regulation do not provide sufficient guidance.”
The bill was approved by a vote of 7-3 and now awaits consideration for a vote by the full Assembly.