About 100 people rallied outside Assemblywoman Mila Jasey’s Maplewood office Tuesday, June 9, 2015.
Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex), in support of her recently introduced Assembly bill 4351, issued a statement that falls short of fully recognizing the vitality and significance of New Jersey’s charter schools and the remarkable success of their students. As she writes in support of her moratorium on charter school expansion, it is essential that we address the full range of issues that should inform the charter school debate.
New Jersey’s charter school law—for all its shortcomings—has promoted the development and growth of remarkable public schools that serve tens of thousands of children in our neediest urban districts. Charter schools are closing the gap in proficiency rates between the state’s historically underserved black and Latino population and the state’s white and Asian population. New Jersey charter school students surpassed their peers across the state over the past five years with an 80 percent reduction in the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA) Language Arts Literacy achievement gap and 34 percent reduction in HSPA Math achievement gap. Similar gains were made in the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge (NJASK).
The charter school law has also allowed for the creation of unique schools that serve students throughout the state in innovative and effective ways. There is no greater testament to the success of these unique and innovative programs than the 89.9 percent charter high school graduation rate, which surpassed the state average of 88.6 percent in 2014. There is nothing to be gained by denying students access to these programs, or by limiting schools’ ability to meet the demand for more seats.
Many of us wish for a less adversarial environment in which greater charter/district collaboration would be possible; however, the lack of collaboration is not something that can be addressed by shutting down charter school growth or by changing the law. Collaboration occurs when colleagues value each other’s work and agree on a common goal—in this case, doing our best for every student without regard for adult agendas that obscure the real purpose of public education.
Twenty years ago, we believed charters would grow into a diverse and innovative sector that would serve all parts of our state, and to some extent that has occurred. But that focus has also shifted as the desperation of parents in failing school districts created a huge, and still unmet, demand for access to quality educational options in urban communities. The biggest problem facing New Jersey’s charter schools is that there aren’t enough of them. We need more schools with more seats, and we need them now. Parents in affluent suburbs have no limits on access to high-quality seats—to limit such access in areas of need is simply unjust.
The second biggest problem for New Jersey’s charter schools is the lack of equitable funding. New Jersey’s Charter School Act of 1995 intended that charter school students would receive 90 percent of the per pupil funding, but the reality is that they receive closer to 69 percent of per pupil funding on average.
We must focus our efforts on providing every student access to the high-quality public schools they deserve.