Gov. Chris Christie and state-appointed Newark schools superintendent Cami Anderson are complicit in the evasion of laws and regulations governing the regulation of charter schools. Those are political decisions because they support the privatization of public education. What is incomprehensible to me is why so many organizations and community groups opposed to the privatization of public education in New Jersey have failed to act aggressively in the face of continued violation of the law.
I also cannot understand why state Education Commissioner David Hespe would delay taking action to stop this evasion of the law. He is a lawyer with an excellent reputation that can only be soiled by his failure to act to restore respect for the law and to bring peace to an increasingly tense Newark.
Since November, I have watched—and reported on and written about—the growing discontent of the people of Newark in the face of Anderson’s arrogant and, I believe, illegal “One Newark” plan that, without the consent of parents, disperses children throughout the city, including to charter schools whose leaders exploit their private business connections with people like former state Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf and former Mayor Cory Booker to gain unjust enrichment from public funds.
It is now June and no organization—not the Newark Teachers Union, not the New Jersey Education Association, not the Education Law Center, not the American Civil Liberties Union, no one—has taken aggressive court action to seek a temporary restraining order to stop this flawed plan that will cause real and irreparable damage to children in the city. Soon, within a matter of days, it will be too late to do anything. And Anderson, despite the optimistic hopes of some in the city, now has repeatedly said she will not resign and she will continue to bury the city under the weight of her “One Newark” plan.
Hey, guys—get real: Cami is gaming you and you don’t even know it. Despite what The Star-Ledger editorial board says about her, she is not politically naïve nor tone-deaf. She knows precisely what she is doing and she is winning.
Cami Anderson is winning.
Disruption, chaos and controversy are not accidental consequences of Anderson’s behavior—they are the intended consequences. Holler all you want. Sit in all you want. Cami Anderson is not paying attention and she is winning.
I support the parents and children of Newark who want to keep their neighborhood schools and force the state to abide by funding laws.
I support the organizations opposed to her and I can understand that some of their leaders might believe a successful court action is a long-shot but, at the moment, it is the only shot the community has. The failure to use the courts to stop the reckless behavior of Anderson—and her enablers in Trenton—only aggravates the frustration of parents and students who are increasingly resorting to civil disobedience because their concerns cannot otherwise be heard.
I would rather see this fought out in the courts than in the streets. Not just because I believe in the law—but also because I am one of the few people engaged in this controversy who was a working adult when Newark was torn by civil disorders that left 37 of its residents dead. I am appalled that Anderson attends conferences and supports organizations—like the Broad Academy–where the idea of “disruption” is considered an appropriate way of speaking about school “reform.”
These people have no right—Cami Anderson has no right—to toy with the legitimate anger and frustrations of the people of the city of Newark. No fewer than 77 members of the clergy have warned that her arrogance has generated “venomous” anger that might have “catastrophic” consequences.
By what right does this woman from Los Angeles dare to threaten the safety and well-being of the people of the city of Newark? By what right do David Hespe and Chris Christie allow her to stay and continue to threaten the peace of the city and state?
The law is on the side of those opposed to the “One Newark” plan. Both the statute and the regulations governing charter schools require them to resort to a “lottery” or similar “random” selection process to place children when applications exceed available seats. Anderson has told The Star-Ledger—another enabler—that a “waiting list” still exists and applications did, in fact, exceed seats. So a lottery MUST be used. The “One Newark” universal application plan is not a lottery.
This is what the law, N.J.S.A. 18A:36A-8, says: “If there are more applications to enroll in the charter school than there are spaces available, the charter school shall select students to attend using a random selection process.”
The regulation, N.J.A.C. 6A:11-1.2, requires that, if there are more applications than seats, then a waiting list must be created and that is defined as “the document identifying the names of grade-eligible students with applications to a charter school pending acceptance for the subsequent school year, based upon the order of random selection from a lottery following a recruitment period.”
So both the law and regulations talk about a random selection process or a lottery. Here is what the website of the New Jersey Charter School Association says: “Any child may enroll in a charter school. If there are more students than spaces available, the charter school must select students using a lottery process.”
I asked the association whether it believes “One Newark” complies with the law. I didn’t get an answer. This is what I received from its public relations person, Michael Turner, as the “official position” of the organization:
“The New Jersey Charter Schools Association supports a blind lottery enrollment system, or any other blind selection process, that fairly admits students who want to attend a charter school so that they can receive a quality public education.”
But “One Newark” is not a lottery. “One Newark” is not a random selection process. “One Newark” is a “blind lottery enrollment system.”
It is a selection process based on an “algorithm” developed by The Parthenon Group, paid for with Mark Zuckerberg’s money via the Foundation for Newark’s Future and used by Anderson in a way that prevents public disclosure of how it works. We know from Anderson’s statements that she gives “preference” to certain groups—and giving those preferences makes the system non-random and non-blind and certainly not a lottery.
Yet the department spokesman also said: “The algorithm used is considered a random selection process which would be equivalent to a type of lottery.”
A “type of lottery”? What the hell does that mean? How does Hespe know? Has Hespe seen the algorithm? Will he share it with the people who pay his salary?
The whole point of a lottery is to ensure, not just that children are treated fairly, but that charter schools are not used like white racist academies in the south to increase racial and economic isolation. Indeed, charter schools may not, under the law, do anything to violate the “civil rights” of children and parents.
How do we know that’s true if the “algorithm” is secret? How can we find out except through court action?
And there has been no waiver of any of these requirements. According to a spokesman for the state Department of Education: “No charter school requested a waiver to include an algorithm in the lottery process.” Statutes—laws enacted by the Legislature—cannot be waived; only regulations can.
No charter school requested a waiver to include an algorithm in the lottery process
But this is what happened—former Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf—a charter school trustee and private consultant to Newark when he was named to his state post—allowed charter schools to “amend” their charters so they could participate in “One Newark.” This is after he conspired with Christie and Cory Booker to make Newark the “charter school capital” of the nation, according to The New Yorker.
Nothing—I repeat, nothing—in either the law or in administrative regulations—allowed the education commissioner to permit charter schools to amend their charters to nullify the law requiring a lottery or other random selection process.
“One Newark” is based on a tissue of lies and a deliberate attempt to circumvent the law. I understand Cerf doing that. I understand Christie doing that. I understand Anderson doing that. I understand Booker doing that. They are fanatics.
But I do not understand David Hespe doing that—and I certainly am amazed that organizations like the Newark Teachers Union, the New Jersey Education Association, the Education Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP, and other groups would tolerate this violation of law and regulations for as long as they have.
Speeches at the Statehouse stairs won’t cut it. Rallies on Broad Street won’t change a thing. It’s too late for that.
The parents and children of the city have not been allowed to know how the system works—and the organizations that have the legal firepower to force Anderson to reveal how it works have done nothing but march and speechify and denounce.
The time to act—not talk—is now.