Testimony by Nicole D. Cole, Esq., before the Innovative Practices Subcommittee of the Joint Committee on the Public Schools, July 20, 2015

Good morning Chairman Wolfe and members of the Innovative Practices Subcommittee of the Joint Committee on the Public Schools.  My name is Nicole Cole and I am the President & CEO of the NJ Charter Schools Association (NJCSA).

I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today on behalf of the 87 public charter schools in New Jersey, the 40,000 students attending those schools and the 25,000+ households that are currently sitting on waiting lists for public charter schools across the State of New Jersey.

New Jersey’s public charter schools are subject to rigorous oversight and accountability. The greatest measure of that is the threat of closure if they fail to meet the high standards set before them. QSAC, in many ways, represents a lower level of accountability than current accountability measures in place for public charter schools.  Stated simply, charter schools provide more reporting and documentation than any public school structure in New Jersey with an emphasis on improving student outcomes, operations, and fiscal responsibility.

Every New Jersey public charter school must sign a charter agreement with the DOE that binds the public charter school and the DOE to the Charter School Performance Framework, as well as any additional promises or deliverables made in each individual charter agreement.  If our schools fail to live up to this agreement they can be closed – the ultimate level of accountability.

The DOE’s Charter School Performance Framework sets very high standards for student outcomes which includes a focus on curriculum, planning, organizational capacity, and financial stability. Such standards do not exist within QSAC.

In addition to the performance framework and the charter agreement, New Jersey public charter schools must also submit annual reports to the DOE that collect all pertinent data about their performance and operations.  These yearly reports must demonstrate the public charter school’s effectiveness, as well as the school’s compliance with the DOE’s performance framework and the charter agreement for that school.

I want to make clear that every charter school in New Jersey must sign a binding agreement with the DOE that lays out expectations and requirements related to student outcomes, curriculum, planning, organizational capacity, and financial stability.  And every year, every charter school must submit an annual report detailing compliance with those requirements. If a charter school does not meet its requirements, it can be shut down and many have been.

New Jersey public charter schools also go through a very thorough and exhaustive charter renewal process—initially after four (4) years and then every five (5) years.  In addition to documenting every important aspect of the school’s academic, organizational, and financial performance, each public charter school must also undergo site visits from the NJDOE as part of the renewal process. In some cases, DOE staff visit every single classroom, interview teachers, parents, trustees, students, and examine records in the business office.

Finally, New Jersey public charter schools undergo annual financial audits using an Audit Program that is virtually identical to traditional public school district audits and is among the most rigorous such audits in the country.

As an association representing New Jersey’s public charter school community, we believe that forcing public charter schools to add QSAC does nothing to improve transparency or accountability or most importantly, student outcomes.  New Jersey public charter schools are already far more accountable than any traditional public school and far more exposed to real consequences for any failures.

I invite each of you to visit multiple charter schools and meet with the staff to learn more about the extensive review and oversight systems currently in place before you make any decisions.

We appreciate the opportunity and would be happy to answer any questions members of the committee may have.

Testimony by Nicole D. Cole, Esq., before the Innovative Practices Subcommittee of the Joint Committee on the Public Schools,