Lawsuit Aims to Make State’s Charter School Review Process Transparent

March 4, 2011

NEWARK — The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) filed a lawsuit against the New Jersey Department of Education (DOE) today, demanding that it disclose the names of volunteers who reviewed applications to create or renew public charter schools and details about the training they receive.

The lawsuit was filed (5mb PDF) in Superior Court in Mercer County on behalf of the Education Law Center (ELC), which filed the initial request for public information in November, 2010. The DOE denied access to training materials and redacted the identities of the DOE volunteers, whom the DOE asked in November to review 50 applications for schools hoping to open in September 2012.

“Charter schools have a reputation for adding elements of private school experience, but if they're not accountable to the public, they're not holding up the public end of the bargain," Education Law Center Executive Director David Sciarra said. “The public has a right to know who is involved in making decisions about public education.”

Although the DOE provided the ELC with information about its employees, it violated the New Jersey Open Public Records Act on a number of counts by illegally withholding the identities of unpaid volunteers, who play a role in determining which schools receive a charter from the DOE and public funding. The DOE enlists volunteer readers to score and evaluate each application for a school charter, which sets forth a plan for operating a semi-autonomous public school.

Although the DOE claims the withheld materials contain “deliberative, consultative, advisory” information, the ACLU-NJ has reason to believe those materials refer only to criteria for decision-making, not the substance of actual decisions, which means by law the public has a right to see it.

“Charter schools have a mission to serve the public, and in turn the public has a right to know what processes guide the decisions to create them,” said ACLU-NJ Open Governance Attorney Bobby Conner. “When people are denied access to their own public schools, it amounts to theft of taxpayer dollars.”

The case, captioned Education Law Center v. New Jersey Department of Education.

Category: Open Government

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