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Assembly Advances Diegnan & Johnson Bill to Institute Approval Moratorium while Virtual Charter Schools are Examined

Legislation sponsored by Assemblymen Patrick Diegnan Jr., and Gordon Johnson halting the proliferation of “virtual” charter schools pending a taskforce examination was approved Thursday by an Assembly panel.

“This measure will help provide a thorough and proper evaluation of virtual charter schools to determine if they are, first and foremost, permissible by law,” said Diegnan (D-Middlesex). “We also need to conduct a thorough review to ensure that these schools meet strict standards for delivering a quality education.”

The bill (A-3105) would create a twelve-month moratorium on the approval of virtual charter schools. The bill defines a virtual charter school as one in which all or some instruction is provided through the Internet, and the students enrolled in the school and the instructional staff employed by the school are geographically remote from each other.

“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,” said Johnson (D-Bergen). “It’s important to proactively examine their place in our system now instead of allowing them to proliferate without the proper oversight.”

Following the bill’s effective date, the Commissioner of Education will not be allowed to approve any application for the establishment of a virtual charter school for a period of 12 months while a task force is created to investigate and develop recommendations for the structure governing virtual charter school education in New Jersey.

The Virtual Charter School Task Force would consist of 9 members, three appointed by the Governor, three by the Senate President, and three by the Assembly Speaker.

The task force’s recommendations must 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 would be required to issue a report to the Governor and the Legislature no later than March 1, 2013, at which time the taskforce would expire.

At least five virtual charter schools have been approved by the Department of Education, four of which will be based out of Newark and run by K12 Inc., a technology-based education company that operates on the New York Stock Exchange. The fifth school is Merit Preparatory School, which is also based in Newark.

The bill was approved by the Assembly Education Committee by a vote of 7-3 and now awaits consideration by the full Assembly.