Expand charter schools? Here’s how

Nelson Smith:

ducation reform advocates have been cheered by the election of Chris Christie as New Jersey’s next governor. A key plank of his education plan is creating more high-quality public charter schools — a goal shared with the administration of President Obama.
Since the first charter school law was passed in 1991, the movement has enjoyed bipartisan support at the federal and state levels. Now, in part because of the emphasis on charters in the administration’s “Race to the Top” competition, we’re seeing a firestorm of renewed interest in many states.
As Carlos Lejnieks, chairman of the a, rightly says, we need to move charters “from mediocre to good; from good to great; and from great to growth.” The good news is that New Jersey has assets to build from and is already doing some things right.
From Ryan Hill and Steve Adubato in Newark to Gloria Bonilla-Santiago in Camden, some of the nation’s leading charter leaders are in New Jersey. In terms of policy, there is no statewide “cap” on the number of charter schools that can be created; the New Jersey Department of Education has created a reasonably rigorous process for approving new charters while adding greater numbers of new schools in recent years; and the statewide public school-finance reforms enacted in 2008 helped establish a more level playing field for charters that had suffered huge disadvantages under the previous funding program.