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Assembly Approves Charter School Reform Bill Sponsored by Diegnan, Barnes, Wisniewski, Caputo, Gusciora & Jasey

Assembly Democratic charter school reform legislation designed to establish voter input into the charter school process was approved Thursday by the full Assembly. The bill is sponsored by Assembly Democrats Patrick J. Diegnan Jr., Peter J. Barnes III, John Wisniewski, Ralph Caputo, Reed Gusciora and Mila Jasey.

The measure (A-1877), approved by a vote of 45-27-4, would require final voter approval at the annual school election or by the board of school estimate before the establishment of a charter school in any community.

“Community support is crucial in strengthening the establishment of charter schools,” said Diegnan, Chair of the Education Committee. “Local input will help ensure that the charter schools that are created fit the needs of the community thereby strengthening the entire public education system.”

“The public deserves the right to decide whether public dollars should be devoted to a charter school,” Barnes said. “Our democracy relies on giving the community a voice, and charter schools that are worthy will surely get the support they need.”

The bill would require that after the Commissioner of Education grants initial approval of a charter application, final approval must be granted by voters at the annual school election or by the board of school estimate prior to designation as a charter school district of residence or expansion of a charter school.

“Improving our educational opportunities is important, but so is public input,” Wisniewski said. “Charter schools, if designed properly, can help meet the educational needs of a particular community, but voter input is crucial in deciding whether it is in their best interest to divert public funds to a given school.”

“Every community’s needs are unique and what works for one might not work for another,” said Caputo. “When it comes to an issue as critical as education, and the valuable tax dollars that go along with it, the voters deserve to have their input weighed.”

“Any proliferation of charter schools needs to be accompanied by sufficient input from the community,” said Gusciora. “Charter schools, by nature, are designed to fill important gaps in local educational opportunities. Taxpayer dollars shouldn’t be siphoned from public schools if a community doesn’t feel the need exists.”

“Charter schools have a role to play as we undertake significant education reform measures,” said Jasey. “The intention was never to replace regular public schools but rather to provide schools where new approaches and strategies could be tested and then, where successful, shared with their counterparts. It’s imperative that residents have a say in whether a given charter school will meet the needs of their community and warrant the support of taxpayer dollars.”

The bills now await consideration by the Senate.