A Cumberland County charter school was denied a request for expansion by the Department of Education under new Gov. Phil Murphy, who also pledged to review the state’s charter school laws.
Compass Academy in Vineland, which serves students in kindergarten through fifth grade, was looking to expand to a 342-seat preschool through eighth grade school.
The announcement earlier this month included the denial for expansion of four charter schools in North Jersey and the initial approval for one new charter school in Salem County. In its announcement, the Department of Education said it will begin a review of the state’s charter school law, holding true to a campaign promise made by Murphy.
“Moving forward, the Department of Education will initiate a comprehensive review of the Charter School Program Act. That review will include input from stakeholders throughout the state,” said New Jersey Department of Education spokesman Michael Yaple.
In its denial for Compass Academy, the state cited below-average test scores and a very short wait list. Acting Commissioner Lamont Repollet, in his letter to Compass President Lynn Lichtenberger, said Compass did not meet the academic standards for expansion.
“Despite the slight increase in PARCC scores, (English language arts) growth scores have decreased significantly and the percent of students who met or exceeded expectations (i.e., scored proficient) has not outpaced the local district in ELA. Neither ELA or math proficiency scores have reached or surpassed state averages,” Repollet wrote.
The state review of the charter school also said Compass Academy ended the 2015-16 school year with a deficit, although it noted that in 2016-17, the school ended with a surplus.
Repollet said in the letter the state is concerned Compass Academy does not have the organizational capacity to support increased enrollment, nor does it have a demand for seats with only one person on its wait list.
According to Yaple, the decisions on some of the charter schools had been delayed because a 60-day public-comment period fell in between the transition from one administration to the next.
This round of charter approvals was for the NJDOE’s October round of applications, which is only for proven operators of charter schools. In that round, four new charter schools had applied, but three were rejected in November during the first phase of review.
The only new charter school that received initial approval was Creative CoLaborative Charter School, which would serve eight districts in Gloucester, Salem and Cumberland counties (Alloway, Elk, Franklin, Pittsgrove, South Harrison, Upper Deerfield, Upper Pittsgrove and Woodstown). In the first year of enrollment, 96 students would be permitted in grades five to eight, and year four enrollment would be 192 students in grades five to eight.