Wednesday, December 4, 2013

SSSHHHHH! Statewide Charter Applies For Expansion, Doesn't Tell 20 Districts It Serves...

On October 5th, 2013 the Hatikvah International Academy Charter School submitted an expansion request to the New Jersey Department of Education. You can read or download the application here.

The expansion would allow Hatikvah to add a middle school (grades 6-8) and also add an additional class of 25 students per grade. (an increase from 50-75 students in each grade) This would mean that in the next five years Hatikvah will more than double in size.

And that would not be the end of their expansion either. This expansion request only fills seats in grades K-5 with 75 students by the year 2018-2019.

This certainly implies that when their charter is up for renewal in the 2018-19 school year there will be another expansion request. My guess is the next logical step would be to request to add a high school. At 75 students per grade in grades K-12 Hatikvah could ultimately serve 975 students.

One point of confusion is that Hatikvah claims, both on their website and in their expansion request, that they are already approved to serve K-8.  This is from the website:
In 2013-2014, Hatikvah serves students in grades kindergarten (full day) through fifth, growing to kindergarten through eighth grade in 2016-2017.
Except this is not true. Amy Ruck, the Director of the Office of Charter Schools, was asked directly if Hatikvah is currently approved as a K-5 school or a K-8 school. The answer?

 Yeah, they're only approved K-5.

So how is Hatikvah getting away with false claims that they already have approval from the state to serve kids in grades 6-8?? The approval to expand can only come from the Commissioner of Education, and thus far he has not granted that approval. 

And here is the other really interesting thing; East Brunswick is the only district Hatikvah is approved to serve. But I filed an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request to find out how many districts Hatikvah currently serves. 

What did I find out? 

That Hatikvah has enrolled students from 20 other districts in 6 counties. 

Source: NJDOE 
FY 2013-14 State Charter School Aid Based on 10/15/2013 Enrollment Count

This clearly demonstrates that while Hatikvah is only approved to pull students from East Brunswick, in the four years since their approval they have morphed into a statewide charter school. Only 57% of their students come from East Brunswick, the only district they are approved to serve.

And that's not all. I also used OPRA to get access to Hativah's waiting list. Even I was shocked to learn that students from 39 different districts, as far north as Teaneck and as far south as Toms River, have applied to attend Hatikvah.

More than 70% of the students on Hatikvah's waiting list are from districts other than East Brunswick.

In my opinion, it is then a very valid question to ask WHY Hatikvah should be allowed to expand either their class size or the grades they serve. There is clearly insufficient interest in East Brunswick to fill the seats for which they are currently approved. 

In fact, even though Hatikvah is drawing students from 21 districts in 6 counties, and 39 districts are represented on their waiting list, the charter is STILL under enrolled. Their charter allows for 273 students in the 2013-2014 school year, yet they have only 263 students enrolled.

The most shocking part is that even though 43% of Hatikvah's current students and over 70% on their waiting list are coming from districts other than East Brunswick, under New Jersey's charter school law only East Brunswick was notified of Hatikvah's expansion request, and only East Brunswick is given an opportunity to submit a response to the NJDOE regarding the expansion. 

Not one of the other 20 affected districts or 18 waiting list districts was notified of Hatikvah's plans to expand. They were not notified directly by Hatikvah or by the State. How can a charter expansion, which will potentially impact the budgets of 39 districts, only be required to notify one?

If you or someone you know live in one of the 21 affected districts or 18 waiting list districts, now is the time to SPEAK UP!

Concerned citizens have only a little more than two months to make their voices heard as Commissioner Cerf will make a decision on Hatikvah's expansion request on February 28, 2014. If you are in one of the affected districts, let your friends and neighbors know and also reach out to your board of education and legislators. Tell them how much your district is losing, and let them know that this amount could double over the next five years if Hatikvah is allowed to expand

Here is a table of the current districts and their payments to Hatikvah for the 2013-2014 school year.

Source: NJDOE
FY 2013-14 State Charter School Aid Based on 10/15/2013 Enrollment Count

If you are opposed to the expansion you can also take action right now by signing this petition, which lets Commissioner Cerf and your legislators know that you want Hatikvah's request to be denied. 

Between now and the February 28th decision day I plan to blog about various issues regarding Hatikvah. I expect the conversation will get lively at times and I invite those that disagree with me to comment as well as those who agree with me. I just ask the dialogue remain respectful and on topic.


  1. "Commissioner Cerf will make a decision on Hatikvah's expansion request on February 28, 2013." Should that be 2014?

    Awesome that you are using open records requests, you are writing about facts, not ideas or opinions.

  2. Oh dear! Thank you for catching my oversight. I corrected the error.

    And thank you also for your kind words.