Controversial Gulen Charter Schools Double in Size in New Jersey Under Pro-Privatization GOP Gov. Chris Christie
$115 million price tag from taxpayer funds diverted from local school districts
On the heels of an explosive investigation of Gulen Charter Schools in New Jersey by The Record newspaper, comes a CBS-TV report claiming that teachers at Gulen charters were forced to turn over up to 40 percent of their salary to the Gulen movement, a controversial religious and social movement with roots in Turkey.
Leaving aside the insanely complex political issues, I’d like to add to the phenomenal job The Record has done investigating New Jersey’s Gulen charters. Unbeknownst to most of us, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, the “least popular governor in America,” has exponentially increased the number of Gulen charters in New Jersey. This will, without a doubt, dramatically increase the price tag as well, but by how much?
Let’s find out.
When Christie took office four Gulen affiliated schools existed. They were: Thomas Edison EnergySmart Charter School (TEECS) founded in 2002, Paterson Charter School for Science and Technology (2003), Central Jersey College Prep (2006), and Bergen Arts and Science (2007).
Gov. Christie opened three new Gulen charters and has approved a fourth to open in September, 2017. These are: Passaic Arts and Science (2011), Paterson Arts and Science (2013), Hudson Arts and Science (2016) and Union Arts and Science, which will open in September.
Simply put, Christie has doubled the number of Gulen charters in his two terms.
How much is this costing New Jersey taxpayers in 2017?
Thanks to an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, I have the State Charter School Aid summaries for every single charter school in the state for FY17, so I can easily calculate that amount.
In the 2016-17 school year the taxpayers of New Jersey shelled out $64,972,385 to fund seven Gulen charters.
• Central Jersey College Prep: $6,203,605
• Bergen Arts and Science: $14,016,818
• Passaic Arts and Science: $10,857,525
• Paterson Arts and Science: $6,984,518
• Hudson Arts and Science: $3,816,388
• Paterson Charter School for Science & Tech: $14,615,460
• Thomas Edison EnergySmart Charter School: $4,667,683
Kind of shocking, no?
Here are those aid summaries, so you can see the numbers for yourself and you can see which New Jersey districts are impacted. I think you’ll be surprised to see just how many districts are impacted, and how much money each school district and their traditional K-12 public schools are losing.
And as if the loss of almost $65 million dollars is not wild enough, wait until you hear about the expansions Governor Christie’s administration has approved for these schools.
Chris Christie explodes the number of Gulen charter seats
According to the aid summaries, the seven Gulen affiliated schools in New Jersey are serving approximately 4,797 students this year.
In the last two years alone, the Christie administration has approved expansions for all seven schools. In 2016 Bergen Arts and Science and TEECS received expansions, and in March of this year the other 5 got the go ahead to expand.
Bergen Arts & Science was given an increase from 1,040 students to 1,400, a total of 360 new seats. A letter from former Commissioner David Hespe to TEECS limits their expansion, citing a lack of diversity, but still allows them to add an additional 200 seats. Not much of a punishment for not serving the same demographic mix as the sending districts, now is it? Read Jersey Jazzman’s blog for more information about the undeniable segregation happening at TEECS.
That makes 560 new seats approved in 2016 just for Bergen Arts & Science and TEECS, plus another 240 when Union Arts & Science opens up in September of 2017 to serve kids in K-2. Union Arts & Science was approved to serve K-5, so at full expansion they will have 480 available seats.
Hudson Arts and Science just opened in September of 2016 to serve 360 kids in grades K-5. They were approved to serve K-8, so at full expansion they will serve 540 students, for a total of 180 additional seats.
And here’s how many new seats were just approved in February of 2017.
• Paterson Arts and Science:;357
• Central Jersey College Prep: 840
• Passaic Arts and Science: 161
• Hudson Arts and Science: 661
• Paterson Charter School for Science & Technology: 480
That’s another 2,499 seats in 2017 to add to the 1,220 additional seats for Bergen, Hudson and Union A&S, and TEECS, for a total of 3,719 seats still to come in Gulen charter schools.
How much more is that going to cost?
According to the aid summaries, there are 4,797 students enrolled in Gulen charters this school year. With a total of $64,972,385 spent, that’s an average of $13,544.38 per student.
At that per pupil average, Christie’s continued reckless expansion of Gulen charter schools will add another $50,371,549 burden to the taxpayers of New Jersey.
After Christie leaves office in January 2018, if the next administration doesn’t do something to halt this unprecedented growth, the people of the fine state of New Jersey will soon spend approximately $115,343,934 per year to support a network of Gulen charter schools.
And remember – The Christie administration approves ’em but we pay for ’em out of our local tax dollars.
So what do we do?
If you think this is outrageous, start talking to the candidates for Governor of both parties.
Show up at their meetings. Ask them questions. Send them letters. Let them know that if they want your vote they need to halt the charter school growth Christie has unleashed on the people of New Jersey. While you’re at it, tell them they need to fix New Jersey’s charter school law and give local school boards the say over new charters.
And don’t forget to tell the gubernatorial candidates that Christie made these decisions as he was about to walk out the door, sticking the next administration with this gigantic mess to figure out.
Swell guy, that Christie.
Darcie Cimarusti is the Communications Director for the Network for Public Education (NPE), founded in 2013 by Anthony Cody and Diane Ravitch. Darcie also manages NPE’s Grassroots Education Network, which is a collective of local, state, and national grassroots groups working to promote and preserve public education. She is the author of the blog Mother Crusader, an organizer with Save Our Schools New Jersey and the President of the Highland Park Board of Education.