HIGHLAND PARK - A proposed charter school in Middlesex County recently was awarded a $600,000 grant from the federal government, despite an application that may be filled with misinformation.
In its grant application, founders of the proposed Tikun Olam school claimed the school had the support of Assemblyman Peter Barnes and former Edison Mayor Jun Choi, and would be housed at St. Mary's church in New Brunswick. But the Diocese of Metuchen has said it has no intention of allowing the school on its property, and both Choi and Barnes deny being supporters. In fact, Barnes tells Kane In Your Corner that he actually opposes the school and thinks it would hurt the local public schools.
Opponents of the proposed school are furious at the U.S. Department of Education. "Here is the federal government taking our money, our tax dollars and giving it willy nilly to someone who puts in an application that had so many errors and misrepresentations in it, without fact checking," Highland Park Council President Gayle Mittler says. "How can that be?"
Sharon Akman, the lead founder of the proposed school, maintains her application was completely factual. In an exclusive interview, she tells Kane In Your Corner, "We're not misrepresenting anybody. If they subsequently changed their mind about it, that's a different thing. But we did not misrepresent them."
The federal government admits it does not routinely fact-check grant applications for charter schools. The New Jersey Department of Education insists it does, but a spokesman would not discuss Tikun Olam's application with Kane In Your Corner because it is "ongoing."
The New Jersey Department of Education is currently deciding whether to approve the Tikun Olam school. It's the third time the state has considered it, and opponents worry the federal grant makes it more likely the school will be approved. They also worry that unless the state and federal governments do a better job of fact checking, charter school applicants across the state will be encouraged to lie.