New Jersey Does Not Need More Unequal, Unfair and Undemocratic Charter School Regulations

Should charter schools be able to expand in some communities through a different process than in others?

In January 2013, NJ Education Commissioner Chris Cerf pushed through new regulations that create a separate and unequal charter school approval process for Newark, Camden, Paterson, Jersey City, Trenton, and many other communities.

The Education Law Center filed a lawsuit to stop these new regulations as a violation of NJ charter law.

Save Our Schools NJ supported that lawsuit with an Amicus Brief written by a Pro Bono attorney, which questioned the fairness of treating communities of color differently than the rest of the state.

While this lawsuit is being decided, two charter schools have applied to expand using these illegal and very discriminatory regulations.

The schools are Merit Prep Charter School of Newark

and

Democracy Prep Charter School of Camden.

Save Our Schools NJ demands that Commissioner Cerf not approve any charter school expansions until the legality of this separate and unequal process is decided by the courts.

The Commissioner also should not approve any expansions without sharing the charter school expansion applications with the people of Camden and Newark and allowing them and their elected representatives to respond.

New Jersey does not need more backroom deliberations and top-down decision making.

We also do not need a dual system of local democratic control for some districts and not others.

Parents to Secretary Duncan: Stop Disempowering and Hurting Communities with NCLB Waivers and School Closings

On February 7th, the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions heard testimony on early lessons of No Child Left Behind state flexibility waivers, from US Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

In October, a coalition of fifty leaders of New Jersey parent, civil rights, and social justice organizations sent a letter to Secretary Duncan, alerting him to two very troubling lessons they saw playing out as a result of the waiver: 1) The absolute lack of community involvement in the programs the State created to replace No Child Left Behind; and 2) The disproportionate, negative impact of these programs on low-income communities of color. Secretary Duncan promised to respond to that letter, but has so far failed to do so.

This message of disempowerment and harm to low-income communities of color as a result of Administration policies was echoed by another coalition of 500 parents and students from 18 cities, which Journey(ed) for Justice to Washington DC on January 29th. They highlighted the disparate negative impact of school closings on communities of color and asked Secretary Duncan to impose a nationwide moratorium on school closings until a more democratic process could be developed. They also asked him to implement a sustainable, community-driven school improvement process rather than the hierarchical programs and policies currently promoted by the US Department of Education.

Unfortunately, no community representatives testified at the February 7th Senate hearing on NCLB waivers. Instead, the Senators heard from current and former state-level officials representing some of the most regressive state waiver proposals. They included Andrew Smarick, a former NJ deputy commissioner of education and vocal proponent of school closings, privatization, and community disempowerment, who helped write New Jersey’s very troubled waiver plan.

Since the historic Brown v. Board ruling of 1954, communities have looked to the federal government to champion a level playing field for all of our children. This objective cannot be accomplished if community voices are shut out of the decision-making process and harmful policies are forced upon communities.

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Save Our Schools NJ is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization of parents and other concerned residents whose more than 10,000 members believe that all NJ children should have access to a high quality public education.

Thank You for Helping to Save Our Schools in 2012!

Happy New Year!

As we begin 2013, we want to thank you for all that you have helped us to accomplish.

In just over two years, Save Our Schools NJ has grown from a handful of parents to more than 9,500 public school supporters across the State. We continue to be a nonpartisan, grassroots group dedicated to ensuring that every child in New Jersey has access to a high-quality public school education.

Our efforts are effective because you have contacted your legislators, written letters to the editor, spoken out in your communities and attended rallies and legislative committee meetings in support of public education.

Another way you can protect public education is by helping to grow our membership. The more members we have, the more we are able to Save Our Schools!

Please share this update with your friends and family members who care about public education and encourage them to sign up for our email alerts, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter.

If you would like to be more involved in protecting public education, you can become one of Save Our Schools NJ’s organizers – more than fifty volunteers across the State who democratically govern the organization. Email us at info@saveourschoolsnj.org
to find out more.

Thank you for all that you have done and continue to do to protect our State’s excellent public schools!
________________________________________
2012 EDUCATION UPDATE

Virtual Charter Schools & Charter School Regulations
School Funding
Charter School Reform
Vouchers
High Stakes Testing

NJ Advocates to Secretary Duncan: NJ’S NCLB Waiver Will Harm Schools Serving Our Neediest Children

Arne Duncan
U.S. Secretary of Education
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20202

Dear Secretary Duncan,

We are writing to express our grave concerns about the negative impact of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver on New Jersey’s most vulnerable children.

We understand that the waivers were an effort to return more control to the states to improve educational opportunities and outcomes. Unfortunately, here in New Jersey, it is quite clear that the NCLB waiver is being used to apply measures that are more damaging than NCLB would have been, particularly to low-income Black and Latino children.

Below, we detail our most pressing concerns with the program the State is implementing under the waiver: 1) introduction of a punitive accountability system that disproportionately impacts school districts populated by low-income children of color while rewarding selective schools and those populated by wealthier, majority white students; and 2) a process of State intervention that excludes low-income communities of color from substantive input in the planning or implementation of the proposed interventions.

To replace the NCLB framework, the State has adopted a new classification system that will reinforce racial and economic segregation and inequity in New Jersey’s public schools. The classification system uses state standardized tests, graduation rates, and gaps in achievement, to target a group of 75 “Priority” schools and 183 “Focus” schools for dramatic State-mandated intervention, including possible closings and conversions to charter schools. These Priority and Focus Schools serve overwhelmingly Black and Latino, very poor communities, and educate many students who do not speak English as a first language. The Priority schools are concentrated in some of the most distressed communities in the state and have a staggering 24% student mobility rate.

In contrast, the State has classified a group of 122 schools as “Reward” schools, based on high achievement or high levels of growth on state tests. These schools, which are targeted to receive financial bonuses, are located in the highest wealth districts in the state, serve a small percentage of Black and Latino students, have low poverty rates, few English language learners, and little student mobility. Many of these schools are magnet high schools and vocational schools, with highly selective admissions.

The blatant economic and racial inequity built into this classification system harks back to the days when such segregation and inequity were policy objectives for our State.

To accompany the new school classification system, the NJDOE is creating an infrastructure of 5 to 7 Regional Achievement Centers (RACs). The RACs, which are being partially funded by grants from private foundations, will have authority to take over the management of Priority and Focus schools, completely bypassing duly elected or appointed local school boards and district administrations.

The NJDOE is giving the targeted schools two years to reach arbitrary new achievement levels or face sanctions. It is highly improbable that the targeted schools will achieve the increased standards that the State is requiring, particularly as the State is simultaneously imposing severe funding cuts on these same school districts. Should they fail to achieve the increased standards, these schools will be subject to closure or the imposition of private management, not only without substantial community input, but in direct opposition to the wishes of the primarily low-income Black and Latino host communities.

In fact, this lack of participation or engagement of the host communities is evident in all aspects of the NJDOE’s implementation of the waiver proposal, underscoring NJDOE Commissioner Cerf’s expressed belief that fixing schools “isn’t about consensus and collaboration.” Not only have those residents whose children attend the targeted schools been left out of the planning and decision-making process, but so have the local boards of education, and the district administrations. Moreover NJ’s entire waiver plan was adopted with minimal opportunity for public input, no legislative review and without the required regulatory rule-making process mandated by NJ’s Administrative Procedure Act.

The potential end result of NJDOE’s implementation of the waiver, with its lack of transparency, its punitive attack on high-poverty school districts, and its insidious disenfranchisement of communities of color, is the undermining and possible destruction of urban public education, including the systematic dismantling of any semblance of democratic governance.

We also want to highlight the threat posed by the recent granting of an additional Title I waiver to the NJDOE, which relaxes requirements that federal Title I funding be used for its prescribed purpose of addressing the negative effects of poverty on academic performance. Governor Christie has proposed redirecting some Title I funds among schools without regard to the degree of poverty, an explicit departure from federal Title I requirements. This diversion of funding flies in the face of the Title I program’s objectives and would further hinder our ability to meet the needs of our most vulnerable students.

We ask that the US Department of Education immediately suspend its No Child Left Behind and Title I waiver provisions in New Jersey until there is a thorough review of the State’s implementation scheme, especially as it pertains to disparate racial and economic impact and lack of community input.

Time is of the essence. The RACs are due to come on-line this fall and the clock has begun ticking for targeted schools in low-income communities of color.

Respectfully yours,

• Reverend Toby Sanders, President, Trenton Board of Education
• Dr. Jonathan Hodges, Member and former President, Paterson Board of Education
• Rosie Grant, Program Director, Paterson Education Fund
• Julia Sass Rubin, Spokesperson, Save Our Schools NJ and Associate Professor of Policy, Rutgers
• Frank Argote-Freyre, President, Latino Action Network
• William Colon, President, The Latino Institute
• Laverne Harvey, President, Camden Education Association
• David Sciarra, Executive Director, Education Law Center
• Deborah Sagner, Sagner Family Foundation
• Junius Williams, Director, Abbott Leadership Institute
• Kathleen Witcher, President, Irvington NAACP
• Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, Executive Director, New Jersey Citizen Action
• Katie Strom, a Founding Member of NJ Teacher Activists Group (NJ TAG)
• Terry Moore, Save Our Schools March, NJ Information Coordinator
• Donna M. Chiera, President, American Federation of Teachers NJ
• Sharon Smith, Parents Unified for Local School Education (PULSE)
• Michelle Fine, Professor of Psychology, City University of New York
• Ras Baraka, Newark Southward Councilman
• Rev. Dr. Ken J. Gordon Jr., President, Southern Burlington County NAACP and Willingboro Councilman
• Leah Owens, Chairperson, Newark Education Workers (NEW) Caucus
• Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson, Chairperson, Newark Public Schools Advisory Board
• Arnold Williams, Founder and Chairperson, League of Black and Latino Voters
• Jose Delgado, Community Activist and former Camden BOE member
• Teresa Vivar, Executive Director, LAZOS America Unida
• Trina Scordo, Executive Director, New Jersey Communities United
• Gordon MacInnes, Former Assistant Commissioner for Abbott Implementation and NJ State Senator
• Donna Jackson, President and Founder, United Parent Network
• Naomi Johnson-Lafleur, President, Trenton Education Association
• Marcia Marley, President, BlueWaveNJ
• Irene Sterling, President, Paterson Education Fund
• Elease Evans, Chairwoman, New Jersey Black Issues Convention
• Geraldine Carroll, President, Great Schools of New Jersey
• Charles Wowkanech, President, New Jersey State AFL-CIO
• Mary G. Bennett, Retired High School Principal, Coalition for Effective Newark Public Schools
• Reverend Darrell L. Armstrong, Founder, Shiloh CDC, Trenton
• Paul Tractenberg, Professor of Law, Rutgers & Co-Director, Institute on Education Law and Policy
• Wilhelmina Holder, President, and Laura Baker, Board Member, Newark Secondary Parents Council
• Willie Rowe, Vice Chair, Coalition for Effective Newark Public Schools
• Edward Barocas, Acting Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey
• Kevin Walsh, Associate Director, Fair Share Housing Center
• Dierdre Glenn Paul, President, African American Caucus of Montclair State University
• Dr. Tamara Spencer, Literacy Graduate Program Coordinator, ECELE, Montclair State University
• Sterling Waterman, Vice President, Jersey City Board of Education
• Debra Jennings, Executive Co-Director, Statewide Parent Advocacy Network
• James E. Harris, President, New Jersey State Conference of the NAACP
• Sharon Krengel, Facilitator, Our Children/Our Schools Coalition*
• Lorenzo Richardson, President of Concerned Citizens Coalition*
• Monique K. Andrews, President of NJ Vocal Minority*
• Bruce S. Morgan, President, New Brunswick Area Branch NAACP*
• Elizabeth Smith, Executive Director, Statewide Education Organizing Committee*

* Added post October 15, 2012

cc:
President Barack Obama
Governor Chris Christie
The New Jersey Congressional Delegation
The New Jersey State Legislative Delegation
Commissioner Chris Cerf, New Jersey Department of Education
Arcelio Aponte, President, New Jersey State Board of Education