A new report from researchers at Rutgers University documents once again a serious problem with charter schools: they are cream-skimming more promising students and leaving in traditional public schools the students with the greatest needs and those who are also the most expensive to educate. The new report shows that public schools in New Jersey, by contrast to the state’s charter schools, are educating a group of students who are poorer and who need more services for special education and learning English.
Save Our Schools New Jersey summarizes the report’s conclusions: “Charter schools across New Jersey educate a very different population of students by income, language proficiency, special needs, race and even gender than their sending district public schools…. The report documents that New Jersey charter schools educate significantly smaller percentages of economically disadvantaged students, English Language Learners, and special education students than do the public school districts from which the charter schools draw their students. The special education students who enroll in charter schools also tend to have less costly disabilities.”
The report explains: “the state’s charter students are overwhelmingly concentrated in seven urban communities—Camden, Hoboken, Jersey City, Newark, Paterson, Plainfield, and Trenton.” In all of these big cities, “The lower rates of economically disadvantaged, Limited English Proficient, and special education classified students in charter schools result in those students being concentrated at higher rates within the host district schools. This increases segregation and impacts the quality of education that districts can provide and the financial resources available to pay for that education.”
The disparity in enrollment of students with disabilities (particularly severe disabilities such as autism, multiple disabilities, and visual impairment and blindness) between public schools and charters is particularly striking. “The smaller number of special education students in charter schools and those students’ lower rates of higher-cost classifications lead to the concentration of more special education students with highest-cost disabilities within the district schools. Yet districts must fund charter schools at a per pupil rate that does not account for these differences in students’ special education needs.”
The disparities are stark, as, for example, as the data for three of the “big seven” districts demonstrates:
- In Newark, 80 percent of public school students qualify for free lunch, while only 70 percent of students in charters qualify for free lunch. In the public schools 9 percent of students are English language learners; in Newark’s charters only 1 percent of students are learning English. The special education classification rate in Newark’s public schools is 18 percent, while the special education rate in Newark’s charters is 9 percent.
- In Paterson, 86 percent of public school students qualify for free lunch, while only 39 percent of students in charters qualify for free lunch. In the public schools 19 percent of students are English language learners; in Paterson’s charters only 2 percent of students are learning English. The special education classification rate in Paterson’s public schools is 14 percent while the special education rate in Paterson’s charters is 9 percent.
- In Camden, 92 percent of public school students qualify for free lunch, while 79 percent of students in charters qualify for free lunch. In the public schools 9 percent of students are English language learners; in Camden’s charters 3 percent of students are learning English. The special education classification rate in Camden’s public schools is 19 percent, while the special education rate in Camden’s charters is 9 percent.
The Rutgers researchers point to the state’s failure—through its policies and oversight of charter schools—to protect the rights of New Jersey’s students: “The New Jersey Supreme Court has consistently found that the New Jersey Commissioner of Education, who authorizes charter schools, must consider the demographic and financial impact of any authorizing decision on the host district and must use the full powers of that office to avoid segregation. The results of the analysis presented in this report suggest that the Commissioner is not sufficiently meeting this legal obligation.” The state’s education commissioner is an appointee of the governor. The new study is an indictment of the management of charter schools by the administration of Governor Chris Christie. Public schools and the children they serve are being short-changed.