New Jersey families left to find new schools as charters are denied permission to expand

Hudson Arts & Science Charter School in Kearny, New Jersey, ranked by U.S. News & World Report as among the best schools in the nation in 2021, was denied permission to expand beyond middle school that same year. Recently, nine of the 17 schools that sought to add additional seats or grades were denied.

Editor’s note: This article appeared Tuesday on newjerseymonitor.com.

Everything changed when Enzo Simonelli began attending fifth grade at Hudson Arts & Sciences Charter School in Kearny.

Enzo went from a quiet student with low grades being bullied by other kids to joining the robotics club and loving school.

But in 2021, the charter school was denied permission to expand to the ninth grade, leaving Enzo’s mother, Ana, with no choice but to enroll him in a different school. After months of stress and dire phone calls, he was accepted to the Bergen Arts and Science Charter School in Hackensack, while his younger brother, Mateo, remained at the Kearny school.

Simonelli said she’s happy with the new school, “but at the same time, it’s tough financially, and emotionally for the kids. It’s a huge, huge change.”

Parents like Simonelli are blindsided when state officials deny charter school expansion — most recently, nine of the 17 schools that sought to add additional seats or grades were denied. The moves have left parents scrambling to locate another charter school with no waitlist, find the money for private tuition, or send their children to traditional public schools.

Harry Lee, president of the New Jersey Public Charter Schools Association, claims the state Department of Education has denied 70% of expansion requests from the highest performing charter schools in the state since 2018, when Gov. Phil Murphy took office.

“This past round was really devastating,” Lee said. “It does not make sense. These are the types of decisions that have had devastating impacts on students and upended the lives of many families.”

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