The federal Department of Education has placed on hold a $600,000 seed grant awarded to the Tikun Olam Hebrew Language Charter School because the school failed to get state approval during the grant’s one-year time frame.
The school, which would have been the state’s first Hebrew-language charter high school, was rejected by the state for the fourth time on Jan. 20.
A lightning rod in the charter school debate, it was originally to include students from Highland Park and Edison. However, New Brunswick was added in its third attempt and Highland Park dropped in the last application.
In response to an inquiry from NJJN, a DOE official who asked not to be identified said that the grant had to be used within the year after it had been granted.
“While they may reapply for authorization at some point in the future, they could not do so in a way to continue grant activities,” said the official, via e-mail.
Lead Tikun Olam founder Sharon Akman had until April 2 to resubmit an application for the next round of charter school approvals, but did not do so. There is no limit to the number of reapplications that can be filed.
When contacted by NJJN, she said she appreciated being given the opportunity to comment, but declined to do so.
Opposition to the bid has been organized by Speak Up Highland Park, whose members contended that the application violated many of the state’s requirements.
Speak Up Highland Park spokesperson Darcie Cimarusti said that she was informed of the grant’s status on June 21 by the office of Rep Frank Pallone (D-Dist. 6).
“This really speaks to the fact that we were able to make our case to the New Jersey Department of Education,” she said. “The facts of the case were strong enough that we were similarly able to make a strong case to the federal government.”
Pallone said he became involved after being contacted by local constituents from Highland Park about the status of the grant.
“My office contacted the U.S. Department of Education for further clarification, and we were recently informed that the grant is in the process of being closed out,” he told NJJN, “which we relayed to the constituents that inquired with my office.”
The charter school bid has triggered opposition rallies by local residents who believe it will siphon tax dollars from “high functioning” public schools. The bid came under even more increased scrutiny after a New York Times columnist in January outlined various “distortions” in the application to the state. Akman denied the charges.
Following the publication of the Times article, the Manhattan-based Hebrew Charter School Center, which provided a “small development grant” to the Tikun Olam organizers in 2009, put out a statement saying it “is not involved with Tikun Olam, we do not support their application, and we share many of the concerns that the Times and others have raised about it.”
Cimarusti said she hoped the loss of the federal grant would end efforts to establish the school.
“Getting this last piece squared away is what we were hoping for,” she added. “We hope this will ensure there never is a fifth application.”