By Adam Clark
TRENTON — While New Jersey's urban school districts could be forced to slash spending and perhaps shutter schools under Gov. Chris Christie's proposed funding overhaul, charter schools in the same communities might be spared negative financial consequences.
Christie said this week that his "fairness formula" — which he acknowledged may be unlikely to win approval — would not carry over to funding to the state's charter schools.
Those schools are primarily in urban areas, and many receive their funding from school districts slated to lose thousands of dollars per student if Christie's plan comes to fruition.
"You would have to go to a new way of funding charters," Christie said in an interview after his speech announcing the proposal. "It would have to change."
Currently, charter schools get funding from the school districts where their students reside. Districts are supposed to pass along 90 percent of their per-pupil costs for the students they serve, according to the state law.
But Christie on Tuesday unveiled a plan to dramatically reallocate state aid, substantially reducing funding to a group of mostly urban districts in order to provide property tax relief for the majority of the state. Under his plan, the state would give $6,599 per student across the board in every district, with the exception of special education students.
The proposal came in part, Christie said, because traditional public schools in urban districts have been outperformed by charter schools despite generous state aid.
"(Charter schools) are doing it at a much better success rate than traditional public schools and at a much lower cost," Christie said, pointing to higher graduation rates at several charter schools.
It's difficult to pass judgment on Christie's plans for charter funding without knowing specific details, said David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center.
But Christie would be "adding insult to injury" if he reduced state aid to urban districts while allowing charter schools to receive the same amount funding, Sciarra said.
"His plan is awful to begin with, and it would be even worse," Sciarra said. "You can't fund schools based on who governs them."
Urban districts would be at an unfair advantage if they lose state aid but charter schools continue to operate with the same level of funding, said John Abeigon, president of Newark Teachers Union.
"It's immediately unfair," Abeigon said, adding that charter schools often perform better because they get some of the top students from traditional public schools.
Christie, a longtime charter school proponent, said that Newark Public Schools in particular need to make adjustments, such as closing schools and reducing staff.
Although the Newark Public Schools are under state control, the Christie administration hasn't been able to run the district they way it wants to because of union contracts and other restrictions, he said.
Urban districts such as Newark should be using charter schools as a model, Christie said.
The governor did not go into detail about how he would fund charter schools if his proposal is approved. But he did say he is open to considering a "Pay for Success" model, which typically involves private investments only repaid by the government if schools show academic success.
"To go back and come up with a new way of funding that's not tied directly to a percentage of what the districts spend is a much easier way of doing it than what we are doing right now," Christie said.
The New Jersey Charter Schools Association hopes that charter schools would become eligible for certain types of state aid they cannot currently receive, such as money for facilities, said Nicole Cole, the association president.
However, the association also wants the state to ensure that its funding is fair to traditional public schools, she said.