Hua Mei Charter Reapplies — Without Millburn, Livingston & Union
Mandarin-immersion school would be based in Maplewood and draw from the neighboring West Orange school district as well as South Orange-Maplewood. However, Millburn, Livingston and Union are now not included.
An application to open Hua Mei, a Mandarin immersion charter school, is among the 42 applications for new charter schools filed by this week's deadline, according to NJ Spotlight. The New Jersey State Departement of Education will decide on the applications by mid-January.
However, Millburn, Livingston and Union are no longer among the "in-district" school districts from which Hua Mei would draw. According to lead applicant Jutta Gassner-Snyder, the in-district towns for this application are South Orange-Maplewood and West Orange.
Just last month, only four of 55 applications were approved as the state charter school office adopted a more rigorous review to determine the strengths of the proposed programs. Hua Mei — as well Hanyu International Academy, another Mandarin-immersion school that would have been based in Livinston and also have drawn students from Millburn and West Orange — did not meet the new criteria.
The applications of Hua Mei and Hanyu International created quite a stir in Millburn, Livingston and South Orange-Maplewood, where school officials and residents felt they financially threatened their successful school districts that already under tight budget constraints because districts would have to provide 90 percent what the state provides per pupil for those who opted for the charters.
Charter school proponents have argued that school districts would to pay for those pupils anyway and that they are still keeping a portion of the costs. In addition, they say, parents should have more options within public schools.
New Jersey currently has 80 charter schools in operation, serving close to 30,000 students. Another 25 are slated to open next fall. Four of those were approved by the state in the last round of applications.
When the applications were turned down last month, Acting Commissioner Chris Cerf said that it has been his experience that "with additional guidance and time to plan, applicants who were not approved have been able to resubmit successful applications.”
"As founders, we collectively share a dream and a passion to bring about educational innovation and choice into the public school district, to empower students to achieve their potential, build self-confidence, and develop a global vision to be ready for the challenges to come in the 21st century," wrote Hua Mei lead founder Gassner-Snyder this afternoon in an email.
Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D- Essex), who respresents the 27th District covering most of the towns with school districts that would be affected by Hua Mei, expressed concern on Wednesday over the 42 applicants seeking approval from the DOE.
In a release, Jasey stated, “Charter schools have an important role to play in the education of our state’s children, but more clarification and accountability are necessary,” said Jasey. “It is absolutely imperative that the application process be rigorous and that we review what charters are accomplishing in comparison to traditional public schools. We need to support effective charter schools, close those that are failing and promote collaboration between charters and traditional publics,” added Jasey.
Jasey is also a primary sponsor of legislation requiring local voter approval of new charter schools. The measure has passed the Assembly and is awaiting consideration in the Senate.
Carlos Perez, the President and CEO of the New Jersey Charter Schools Association, said that when the state denies an application, the schools often receive feedback on why it was not approved.
"Using that information, the school should decide whether it’s worth reapplying or if there are issues they feel they can work on to improve their operation,” Perez said. “If a school is just submitting the same proposal and addressing the issues raised by the authorizer, then they need to be denied again.
Being denied the first time, often helps the founders of a school, he said.
“We are the point where we have a much better understanding what works and what doesn’t in a charter school. We cannot afford to have schools open and learning on the job while children are sitting in the classroom and their parents are expecting the best."
Save Our Schools NJ, which has pushed for stricter oversight of charter schools and for voter approval of schools in their districts, used the applications as an opportunity to urge the Senate to approve legislation that would do those things.
"The new round of applications is a reminder that local communities in New Jersey have absolutely no voice in the charter school approval process," said Julia Sass Rubin, a co-founder of SOS NJ, whose daughter attends a charter school. "Our broken charter school law is leading to conflicts and lawsuits in local communities and draining resources as those communities must mobilize repeatedly to fight off unwanted new charter schools. ...
"There is bi-partisan support in the legislature and among the voters to reform this law," she said. "Seventy-three percent of New Jersey residents want local approval of new charter schools. Why isn't the New Jersey Senate listening to the people?"