March 8, 2017

N.J. Commissioner of Education Decision A Case of Taxation Without Representation

To the Editor:

Like so many in our town, despite close friendships with families at The Princeton Charter School (PCS), I am deeply disturbed by the decision of the New Jersey Commissioner of Education to allow PCS to expand at this time. This decision is a case of taxation without representation, ignores the Princeton community’s widespread opposition, and fails to take into account two important outstanding legal issues: 1) PCS does not even come close to meeting the state’s requirement of having a student population that is representative of the district, and 2) the PCS Board of Trustees planned and voted on the expansion plan in complete secrecy despite being a publicly-funded entity.

New Jersey charter schools are required by law to have a student population that is fairly representative of the districts in which they reside. Unfortunately, the Princeton Charter School has failed at this goal for many years. Currently, the district’s K-8 population is 15 percent “free and reduced price lunch” while at PCS that number is 1 percent; non-speech special needs students represent 13 percent of the district K-8 population and only 3 percent at PCS, and students learning English as a second language are 6 percent of district K-8 students and 0 percent at PCS. These disparities also happen to have important per pupil cost implications.

One reason for these gross disparities is PCS’s longstanding policy of giving families enrolled at the school preference in its annual lottery. Because of this policy, about half the spots for incoming kindergartners are filled by existing families each year. Rather than eliminating this policy in the interest of diversification, PCS offered to double the lottery weighting of “free and reduced price lunch” children upon expansion. However, this measure is clearly inadequate given the number and magnitude of the gaps that exist. Given state requirements, PCS should have been required to address this problem adequately before being granted an expansion, particularly since the expansion gives a financial windfall to PCS at the expense of the district schools and the thousands of children in them. I urge the DOE to consider this issue seriously.

PCS’s unlawful secrecy in devising and voting on its expansion is also a serious matter overlooked by the Commissioner. As a publicly funded entity, PCS is required to follow the Open Public Meetings Act. For this reason, I hope that Princeton Public Schools will prevail in its OPMA lawsuit against PCS and render this unfair expansion decision null and void at this time.

Lori Weir

Stuart Road East