New Jersey and local school officials have been involved in a conspiracy to evade laws governing the operation of charter schools in order to allow the wholesale “charterization” of public schools in Newark, the state’s largest city. State Education Commissioner David Hespe allowed the city’s charter schools to ignore legally-mandated lotteries while, at the same time, he secretly amended the charters of those privatized schools as an after-the-fact method of justifying the elimination of lotteries.
Amending those charters, according to documents obtained by this site, occurred long after Cami Anderson, the state-imposed school superintendent, required parents throughout Newark to apply for placement of their children through a so-called “Universal Enrollment.” The plan, at the time she demanded parents follow it, was illegal because it did not require a random selection process for charter schools.
Although the law and regulations may appear to be complicated, this much is clearly true: In February of this year, when Anderson required parents to sign up for the “One Newark” plan–leading to the charterization of the city’s schools–all charter schools in the city were bound by law and regulation to provide a random admissions process. The “One Newark” plan is NOT a random admissions process, as Anderson herself has admitted. It is based on a “secret” and privately-funded algorithm she will not reveal–but one she admits favors certain groups over others, a clear violation of the law and regulations.
The requirement that the process be random unquestionably continued to be in effect even after Anderson began “matching” students to schools in April. Arguably, the requirement still stands, despite explanations–two months in the creation–that Hespe found a way to get around the random admissions process. His way of getting around the requirement was to allow the privatized schools to “amend” their charters in order to “align” their admissions policies with Anderson’s “One Newark” plan.
There is no question charter schools may apply to the state for amendments to their charters. Amending charters is laid out in the regulations–NJAC 6A:11-2.6. But there is nothing in the rule allowing charter amendments to avoid the random admissions process. The only examples provided are enrollment changes, expanding grade levels, changing a district, or establishing a satellite campus. Indeed, the regulation specifically states that charter amendments must comply with the charter law–and the charter law demands the random process:
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.”
Nothing in the law allows–or could allow–an administrative decision by the commissioner to approve a charter amendment that would violate the law.
Yet that is precisely what Hespe has allowed. He didn’t–as some believed–grant a waiver to Newark to avoid the lottery. He couldn’t because it is in statute and Hespe cannot unilaterally change a statute.
So he used the transparently phony ploy of allowing the charter schools to amend their charters and pretended this solves the problem of eliminating the lottery. But it doesn’t.
Clearly, this conspiracy–this scam against thje parents and children of Newark–began while Christopher Cerf, the once and present business associate of charter school promoters and owners, was still soiling the position of state education commissioner.
In the sycophantic Star-Ledger story about the roll-out of the “One Newark” and “Universal Enrollment” plan, Cerf clearly promises Anderson she can do what she wants to promote charter schools in Newark. The story jocularly compares the plan to nuclear war–but, most importantly, it says Anderson will replace the lottery requirement faced by each charter school with a “central” lottery.
But no such central lottery exists–and there is not provision in either law or regulation to allow a school district, even a state-controlled school district, to ignore the law.
I began asking last May about how the state pulled this off. I repeatedly demanded to know whether Cerf or Hespe had granted a waiver to eliminate the lottery–something that would be illegal. Finally, just last week, the department sent me letters indicating that, at Anderson’s direction, the city’s charter schools asked to have their charters amended to “align” their policies with those of Anderson.
Every one of those requests were granted–but only long after Anderson was implementing her “algorithm.” Most charter schools asked for the amendments in November–and most were approved via letters dated April 4, long after Newark parents were required to apply through the new–and probably illegal–process. One charter–the Merit School–did not even apply for an amendment until April 4. It was granted the waive April 24, two days after Anderson said all school matches would be completed.
By April, Cerf had left as commissioner, joining the private company “Amplify” so he could use the contacts he made as New Jersey commissioner to make a lot of money. Hespe, a once-trusted public servant who previously served as state education commissioner, took over in February. He apparently needed the job more than the good reputation he had developed in the past as commissioner under former Gov. Christie Whitman, so he did his new master’s bidding. He stretched the law until it broke.
And he did it while, all the while, assuring union leaders and others he was desperate to get rid of Cami Anderson. That was a great if laughable ploy–fooling the most vocal critics of Cami Anderson so they would stay quiet while he and Anderson prepared both to impose “One Newark” on the city, quiet anger against the incompetent superintendent, and give Christie’s agent another three-year contract.
Scamming the city. Its parents. Its children.
“One Newark” is illegal. It’s illegal because it discriminates on the basis of race. It is illegal because it violates a raft of state laws and regulations.
And it is illegal because it violates the charter school law.
But, in a New Jersey operated by Gov. Christie’s Mafia, illegal is only what the governor says it is. And Hespe and Anderson do his bidding.