New Jersey’s first Hebrew-language charter school has been given the final go-ahead by the state to open in September.
The Hatikvah International Academy Charter School in East Brunswick received final approval by the state Department of Education on July 6, said founder and board member Yair Nezaria.
The state ranked Hatikvah first in preparedness among the 11 charter schools receiving final approval, he added.
The school will begin the year with a full enrollment of 108 students in grades K-two, although it is still actively seeking students for a few slots. It will occupy rented space behind the Trinity Presbyterian Church on Cranbury Road.
The school plans to build a permanent site on the Campus for Jewish Life, formerly the YM-YWHA of Raritan Valley in Highland Park, which operates a 10.5-acre site on Dutch Road in East Brunswick.
As is mandatory under state law, 90 percent of its students are from East Brunswick and were chosen through a series of lotteries. The remaining 10 percent, also chosen by lottery, come from surrounding communities. Siblings of Hatikvah students will have automatic enrollment preference.
“That was the challenge: to meet that 90 percent mark,” said Nezaria.
The Hebrew-language charter school movement is being closely watched among Jewish educators and parents, as day school tuition costs rise and scholarship dollars are stretched. Although the schools cannot teach religion, they offer a curriculum of Hebrew and Israeli culture that some parents find an adequate substitute or supplement to a religious Jewish education.
Hatikvah has already received $50,000 to cover application costs and has finalized an agreement for another $25,000 grant to cover start-up costs from the Hebrew Charter School Center of the Areivim Philanthropic Group. The nonprofit organization was launched by Michael Steinhardt, a major supporter of Jewish causes, to provide seed money and free consulting to aspiring Hebrew-language charter schools throughout the country.
Although charter schools are considered public schools, only 90 percent of pupil costs are funded by the local school district. Many schools establish foundations for the additional funds.
Nezaria said Hatikvah has already raised $335,000 through private donors. According to Nezaria, the charter school is a cost-effective use of taxpayer dollars.
“Taxpayers do not pay an extra penny for having a charter school in town,” he wrote in an e-mail to NJJN. “To the contrary, the cost of educating a child becomes much more cost effective since typically charter schools are not unionized and have lower administrative costs than their public school counterparts. Charter schools must balance their budgets each and every year and live within their means.”
In addition, he said, 10 percent of Hatikvah students will live out of the district, and the cost of educating them will be "paid for by their districts and not by the East Brunswick school district."
Some township school officials refute the notion that Hatikvah will significantly reduce district spending. Township board of education president Todd Simmens told the Home News Tribune that there is no “dollar-for-dollar transfer of expenses” when students attend charter school.
The school is in the process of hiring 13 state-certified teachers. Each classroom will have two educators, one of whom will be fluent in both Hebrew and English.
CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this article paraphrased Hatikvah founder Yair Nezaria as saying that the "budget outlay to taxpayers was decreased by Hatikvah’s presence." A review of his e-mail to a reporter indicated that Nezaria did not refer specifically to a decrease in taxes, but only to the costs borne by the township school district. The article has been changed to reflect this.