Newark Mayor Ras Baraka has denounced as “terrible” and “irresponsible” the decision by the Christie Administration to allow major expansion of Newark’s charter schools.
“The expansion could not have come at a worse time,” Baraka said in a formal statement issued in response to question from this site.
In the statement, the mayor seems to be moving away from positions he embraced both in a letter he and state-appointed school superintendent Christopher Cerf wrote to Gov. Chris Christie last month endorsing charter growth in Newark–and in an earlier letter he wrote in December seeking a brief moratorium on charter school expansion.
The full text of the Baraka statement follows:
“Governor Christie’s approval of the expansion of Newark charter schools is a terrible decision, unfortunate, irresponsible and damaging to the city’s public schools. The expansion could not have come at a worse time. The governor’s recent decision to add an additional $27 million for Newark schools to his budget was a step forward toward reducing our $72 million public schools deficit. But his decision to allow the expansion of charter schools at this time is a huge step backwards for our traditional public schools.
“The Newark Public Schools are in a severe financial crisis. Shortfalls in State aid, combined with the rapid growth of charter school enrollments and payments, have caused a loss of funding and large revenue gaps in the NPS budget. In response, NPS has had to cut essential teachers, programs, and support staff in district schools, and key central office personnel in areas such as special education.
“A recent report by the Education Law Center analyzes the ongoing NPS budget crisis in detail, including the significant reductions in teachers, support staff and other resources necessary for children in district schools to achieve and meet New Jersey academic standards.
“The approval of major charter school expansions will result in a dramatic increase of charter school payments, damaging the NPS budget over the next five years, impairing the ability of NPS to provide all students with a high quality, thorough, and efficient education.
“Any further expansion of enrollments in Newark charter schools should have been halted until the NPS budget shortfalls can be addressed to make certain all schools have the resources needed to deliver a high quality education to their students. The $27 million in additional funds is not enough to do this.
“Providing a thorough and efficient education to all Newark children is a priority for my administration. I am also committed to ensuring all Newark public schools, both district and charter schools, provide high quality choices for parents and students, especially those at-risk and with special needs.”
According to a recent article in NJ Spotlight, state Education Commissioner David Hespe allowed the expansion of KIPP and Uncommon Schools, the largest charter school chains in the city–and in the state:
“The KIPP and Uncommon Schools networks in Newark…., both won approvals to expand that will widen their reach in the city to more than 14,000 students combined. ”
The mayor’s statement suggests he may be stepping away from an alliance with Christopher Cerf, the state-appointed superintendent in Newark and an advocate for charter schools.
Cerf and Baraka co-authored a letter in which they requested an additional $36 million in state “transitional” school aid. In the letter, the mayor and the schools superintendent endorsed the idea of charter school expansion.. They endorsed the idea of the district evolving into “one with an increasingly diverse array of magnet, traditional and charter public schools.”
Baraka’s blast at Christie–he doesn’t mention Hespe at all–is more consistent with a letter he sent in December asking for a brief moratorium on charter expansion until the Newark public school budget crisis could be resolved. He was attacked by pro-charter organizations and he responded by saying he only wanted three to six months of a delay in charter growth.
But the recent letter–unlike his December letter or the one he co-authored with Cerf–takes a much longer view of the problems facing Newark’s public schools.
“The approval of major charter school expansions will result in a dramatic increase of charter school payments, damaging the NPS budget over the next five years, impairing the ability of NPS to provide all students with a high quality, thorough, and efficient education,” Baraka wrote.
Christie responded to the Baraka/Cerf letter by adding nearly $27 million–not the $36 million they requested–and reserving all but $2 million of that for charter schools. That left only $2 million for the public school children. Even the $27 million, the mayor said, “is not enough.”