Jersey City charter school students and their parents filled Wednesday’s City Council meeting to support a resolution calling for the state to pay the full amount of legally allowed funding for those schools.
Charter schools in New Jersey are supposed to receive state funding equal to 90 percent of what local public schools receive. But Councilman Steven Fulop, along with the various charter school supporters, argues that Jersey City’s charter schools receive as little as 50 percent of the state funding allotted to traditional public schools in the district (see sidebar).
It’s not fair to the kids, not giving 90 percent.” – Steven Fulop
Fulop introduced a resolution that asks Gov. Christopher Christie to provide adequate funding for Jersey City’s eight charter schools. Fulop has served on the board of the Learning Community Charter School on the city’s west side, and supported the formation of the Ethical Community Charter School near Journal Square.
Charter schools are public schools founded by parents and/or educators. They get most of their funding from the state and don’t charge tuition, and avoid the local school board oversight and teacher’s union contracts that other public schools must face. Usually, students enrolled in a charter school are chosen from a lottery or from signing up on a list. The eight currently operating in Jersey City have a combined enrollment of 3,600 students this school year.
During the meeting, Fulop blamed the inadequate funding on the state’s tax abatement policy that allows Jersey City to exempt developers from paying their fair share of property taxes that could fund schools, with payments instead going directly to the municipality. Fulop explained further that the state provides funding to the Jersey City school district based on the city’s ratable, or taxable base, and how much it should be paying into the school system. But Jersey City does not pay its fair share since 25 percent of properties, according to Fulop, are tax-abated. So the state provides around $100 million in “adjustment aid” to the school district to make up for Jersey City’s shortfall, but local charter schools do not receive any portion of that aid.
Fulop also predicted that insufficient funding from the state will lead to some schools closing, since the charter schools are not only responsible for administrative and education costs but also for maintaining their facilities.
“It’s not fair to the kids, not giving 90 percent,” Fulop said.
The council approved the resolution by an 8-0 vote. The resolution will be sent to Gov. Christie’s office by the City Clerk within a few days. After the meeting, Fulop said Christie will hear about the vote much sooner since one of his staff members, Jersey City resident Abe Lopez, was in the audience.
‘Get that 90 percent’
Charter school supporters, young and old, packed into the City Council chambers before Wednesday’s meeting. They wore a sea of yellow t-shirts bearing the slogan, “Our Kids Are Not Worth Less” while carrying signs reading, “Get real. Give charters 90 percent, not 51 percent.”
Among those making the case for proper funding was downtown Jersey City resident Rachel Potts, a teacher at Learning Community. Potts said due to less funding, her students have to use antiquated computers and teachers had to take a voluntary pay freeze in the current school year.
She said students at her school were outperforming students in the regular district.
“Our students are held to the same state and federal standards but are being taught by teachers who are making less and with far less resources than the school district has accessible to them,” Potts said.
Quinn Williamson, an eighth-grader at Learning Community, called upon Gov. Chris Christie and state legislators to provide the legally required funding.
“Right now, our school and other Jersey City charter schools need financial help in order to continue being successful and to even stay open long-term,” Williamson said.
All the members on the council were in agreement with Williamson. Councilwoman Viola Richardson summed up her vote simply: “If you’re not getting 90 percent, you need to get that 90 percent.”
Healy agrees with full funding
Mayor Jerramiah Healy has called on state legislators representing Jersey City to consider amendments to the state’s current funding formula to ensure that local charter schools will get the full 90 percent.
“We believe that charter schools are an important part of the public education system and should receive the level of funding as set by state law,” said Healy in a statement.
Both Healy’s and Fulop’s actions come just before the state reviews its charter school funding formula starting next month.
Fulop’s resolution is timely, considering Gov. Christie’s much-publicized advocacy for more charter schools to open across the state. However, Fulop said before the meeting that Christie, as recently as in his State of the State address on Tuesday, talked about the need for more charter schools, but not more funding.
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at email@example.com.
Charter schools in town
The eight charter schools in Jersey City are:
Learning Community Charter School on Kennedy Boulevard near Lincoln Park; University Academy Charter High School on West Side Avenue; Ethical Community Charter School on Broadway; Soaring Heights Charter School on Romar Avenue; Liberty Academy Charter School on Sherman Avenue; Jersey City Community Charter School on Danforth Avenue; Schomburg Charter School on Grand Street, and Jersey City Golden Door Charter School on Ninth Street.
All of the schools are funded at various amounts below the per-pupil average for the regular school district. In the 2009-2010 school year, the Jersey City school district per-pupil average was $17,368.
The estimated per-pupil average for each charter school in the same school year along with its ratio to the per-pupil school district average is: Learning Community, $9,884 (57 percent of what it cost to educate the average Jersey City public school student); University Academy, $11,712 (67 percent); Ethical Community, $8,669 (50 percent); Soaring Heights, $9,775 (56 percent); Liberty Academy, $12,314 (71 percent); Jersey City Community, $10,509 (61 percent); Schomburg, $10,976 (63 percent) and Jersey City Golden Door, $10,850 (62 percent). – RK