The Newark public schools will soon be overwhelmed by a vast expansion of privately-run charter schools–the inevitable result of the deal that was supposed to bring local control to Newark’s schools. The national chain of KIPP schools today announced plans to open five new charters to add to the eight already operating in Newark. The hybrid Brick Academy schools–Peshine and Avon–are expected to seek designation as charter schools in the spring. And Uncommon Schools–operating as NorthStar–is seeking city approval to use former Star-Ledger land to build a new charter school.
When all the new charter schools are opened, a possible majority of elementary school children will be placed in these privately-operated, publicly-funded schools backed by hedge fund and other Wall Street money. The dwindling number of the city’s traditional neighborhood schools will become the warehouses for the children with special needs and other problems that the charters won’t–or can’t–accommodate.
Education will become–in the words of John Abeigon, the president of the Newark Teachers Union–warned the system will become one based on chance.
“Why must we gamble with a child’s education?” he asked. “Why must parents gamble through a lottery to provide their child a decent education in this city?”
The expansion of charter schools means a concomitant reduction in aid to children attending conventional, neighborhood public schools. Indeed, the former state-appointed superintendent, Cami Anderson, admitted the district’s current budget crisis was caused, in part, by the transfer of state aid from public schools to privately-run charters.
The firing of Anderson was part of the deal reached in June between Gov. Chris Christie and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka. Supposedly, Christie promised a return to local control after 20 years of state control–but he demanded that Christopher Cerf, once Christie’s education commissioner and a national champion of charter schools, replace Anderson.
The Christie/Baraka deal also created a committee without power or legal authority, the so-called “Newark Educational Success Board” (NESB), that is supposed to write a “road map” to local control in some distant future. The panel, dominated by pro-charter members appointed by Christie, has met only three times. At one meeting, state officials said the district could be years from assuming full control.
In reality, of course, the future already has been determined–and the expansion plans of Newark charters show what that future will be: Thanks to Gov. Chris Christie, the deal with Baraka and Cerf’s appointment, Newark is well on its way to what former mayor, now US Sen., Cory Booker, wanted it to be, the charter capital of New Jersey.
New Orleans on the Passaic River.
What is so sad about the new rush of charter school plans is that they are coming just at a time when the city seemed on the brink of foiling Christie’s plans to privatize Newark schools. An uprising in the city, led by its students and supported by its leading political figures, was close to creating a world-class headache for Christie who pretends he can be president.
But the opportunity was flushed down the sewers in a deal that seemed to good to be true–because it was just that, too good to be true. Focusing on the hated Anderson missed the bigger picture–the privatization of Newark schools led by Cerf, Christie, and Booker.
Baraka has attacked critics of the deal–including this site and Abeigon, calling them “crackpots.” In the months since the deal, Baraka has become increasingly pro-charter. He toured the city, handing out backpacks and other supplies to school children. The publicity stunt was financed by pro-charter organizations that helped fund opposition to Baraka during the 2014 election campaign.
The mayor has so far said nothing about the Uncommon Schools plan to build a new school on former Star-Ledger land near City Hall.
The Newark Teachers Union has called for a candlelight vigil Monday–when the planning board is expected to meet on the issue. Abeigon has called on Democratic politicians to support neighborhood schools against the expansion of privately-run charters, but the money is clearly behind the charters and their operators, some of which run for-profit private corporations.
Ironically, during last year’s campaign, Baraka called the pro-charter money going to the candidate who opposed him “a former of money laundering.” Now, however, he has taken a friendlier tone toward pro-charter forces and Cerf himself.
The NTU has tried to persuade the city’s central planning board to block approval of construction of an Uncommon Schools charter on a tract of land at Washington and Court streets that once was the parking area for The Star-Ledger, a newspaper that moved out of Newark after nearly a century of operation in the state’s largest city.
The planning board postponed consideration of the charter school chain’s (it operates NorthStar) plans until Monday night, Oct. 19. Abeigon wants teachers from Newark and throughout the state to come to City Hall Monday at 5 pm to show their opposition to the expansion plans.
The KIPP expansion plans were announced in a press conference attended by supportive Democratic politicians. The charter school’s supporters said the expansion would add more than 5,000 new students to the charter rolls–5,000 few public school students.
Meanwhile, administrators at the Brick Academy Schools–Peshine and Avon–have told staff members the schools are planning to seek a change in their status to become charter schools.
Dominique Lee, an entrepreneur and former Anderson associate who runs the Brick Academy Schools under a “memorandum of understanding” also followed by charters, refused to respond to three calls from this site asking him to comment on their plans to become charters. Abeigon confirmed, however, that teachers have been told of plans to become charterized.
The continuing sharp decline in public school enrollment–nearly 20 schools have been closed in the last few years–will result in less money for the neighborhood schools, accelerating a cycle that results in more school closings, more charter schools, and the eventual creation of an apartheid system of education in New Jersey’s largest city.
In the past, charter supporters have scoffed at the idea they want to destroy public education by replacing it with privatized schools operated by private, charter management organizations. But New Orleans recently closed its last public school in a district that is now completely charterized. Closer to home, supporters of charter and voucher schools in Camden have predicted that system also will be replaced by privatized institutions.
If Newark’s plans for charter expansion go ahead, it could mean the death knell, not only for neighborhood public schools, but also for the teaching profession as it operates now and it most other cities and towns. Charter schools do not offer the salaries, benefits, or job protections offered to unionized public school teachers.
Indeed, the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER)–now headed by Shavar Jeffries who ran against Baraka in 2014–has called teacher unionism a dam that “must be burst” so schools can be reformed.
“The quacks and profiteers behind ‘education reform’ and so-called “choice” will argue that teacher seniority puts the brakes on student achievement,” said NTU’s Abeigon. “But how can that be true when every performing district in this city, in this state, in this country, and in the civilized world has teacher seniority protections, contracts, and teachers unions?”