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NJ identifies evaluators of charter school applications, Education Law Center sees ‘red flag’

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: An initial review of public records containing the names of volunteers brought in by the state Department of Education to review applications from 50 New Jersey schools seeking charters “raises a red flag” about their ability to be objective, said Education Law Center Executive Director David Sciarra, whose organization first sought the records nearly a year ago.

According to the documents, some of the reviewers are advocates for expanding charter schools and private school vouchers in New Jersey. Others are, or have been, affiliated with organizations that promote and support charter schools.

Sciarra said the ELC is analyzing the list further to determine whether the individuals brought in are qualified to make decisions about charter school applicants on behalf of the state.

CLICK HERE for the documents and a list of DOE reviewers

“Even a cursory look at the list of charter reviewers raises a red flag about the ability and qualifications of these persons to give DOE objective input on whether an applicant meets the legal and education standards to open a charter in New Jersey,” Sciarra said this afternoon.

The ELC, a Newark-based organization that advocates for equal and adequate public education, filed a public records request for the information on November 24, 2010. In addition to seeking the names, the ELC also asked for training materials that were used to train reviewers, including a Power Point presentation.

The DOE responded to the request on December 22, 2010, refusing to release the materials.

Although it released emails between DOE employees and volunteers, the department redacted the identities and email addresses of the DOE volunteers. The state later agreed to release the requested training materials after the ACLU-NJ filed suit in March .

The lawsuit charged that the state violated the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) by refusing to release the names of outside volunteers who play a role in determining which schools receive a charter and public funding.

“Charter schools have a mission to serve the public and in turn the public has a right to know who is involved in making these decisions,” said ACLU-NJ Open Governance Attorney Bobby Conner. “Releasing the list of outside reviewers sheds more light on how decisions are being made.  It’s time now for the DOE to take the next step and release the actual reviews, along with the reasons for the Commissioner’s final decision to approve or deny a charter application.”




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