Newark’s state-appointed schools chief Christopher Cerf has spent a lot of time lately praising the Christie Administration for increasing Newark’s state aid–“The first time in years we haven’t had flat funding,” he told the board meeting Tuesday night. Several members of the audience yelled out, “Liar!” and they were right. The extra money is part of the big Cerf/Baraka sell-out of public schools–and it is not going to the city’s public schools. It is going to charters, the favorite educational children of Christie, Cerf, and now, sadly, Mayor Ras Baraka.
Don’t take it from me. I know I’ve received a lot of criticism for pointing out that the schools superintendent and mayor have joined together–in “unity,” they call it–when the two should be at odds about the future of public schools. That’s fine.
But, perhaps, Cerf and Baraka should read the latest statement on state school aid provided by the Education Law Center in Newark because its researchers know far more than I do about crunching the right numbers. And here’s what they have concluded about the distribution of state aid:
Newark Charters: The Big Winner
Newark charter schools are the big winners – by far – in the Governor’s school aid proposal. Almost one-quarter of the total $94 million statewide increase, or $22 million, will go to hold Newark charter schools harmless from aid reductions due to declining revenue in the State-operated Newark Public Schools’ (NPS) budget. For the last two years, the State has forced NPS to give extra “hold harmless” funds to charter schools out of the district’s budget. This year, the State is providing extra “hold harmless” aid that the district must pass through to the charters.
The $22 million to hold Newark charters harmless represents 82%, or the lion’s share, of the $26 million increase to the FY17 NPS budget. NPS must also fund an estimated $2 million for enrollment growth in the charters. Because the $22 million increase is driven by charter school budgets, and not based on the state aid owed to NPS under the SFRA, it is insufficient to close the district’s estimated $70 million budget deficit or address the resource needs in NPS-run schools.
Over half of the $20 million in charter hold harmless aid will likely go to the two large national charter chains operating in Newark. Last year, the KIPP charter group received $5.4 million, and Uncommon charters took in an extra $6 million in hold harmless funds. In addition, these and other Newark charters may be carrying large amounts of unused cash in “unrestricted” surplus accounts. A recent Education Law Center analysis showed Newark charters had almost $35 million in excess surplus at the end of 2013-14.
The Governor’s budget is more bad news for students in NPS-run schools. Successive years of flat state aid, coupled with the State’s decision to rapidly expand charters, has left the NPS budget in chronic deficit, forcing deep cuts in the number of classroom teachers, counselors, social workers and nurses, and in special education and bilingual education services and other essential resources.
Now, let’s go back and read the Feb. 1 letter to Christie from the mayor and Cerf in which they beg for extra charter money and promise to expand their enrollment in the future.
Take a look at who signed it. Baraka was the first signature and that sort of makes him the “lead author,” followed by Cerf. Then let’s look at the school board members who signed it: Ariagna Perello, Crystal Fonseca, Marques-Aquil Lewis, Phil Seelinger, Rashon Hasan, Khalil Rashidi. The only persons who refused to sign were Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson, Donald Jackson, and Dashay Carter.
What a coincidence–these six were the same people who voted for Cerf’s land-grab in opposition to Baskerville-Richardson’s pleas for more time to study what would happen to the tens of millions of dollars in school property that will now be given away.
More time, that’s all she and Jackson asked for.
You can be as blind as Homer and still see what’s happening: The board–four of whose members now work for the city–has flipped. It has joined–obeys–Baraka who has joined–obeys–Cerf. In “unity,” says the Cerf/Barak letter, to make it sound like betraying children is a good thing. With the creation of the Newark Educational Success Board (NESB) to stifle the voices of protesters and enhance the voices of charter proponents–with the collapse of the Newark Student Union–with the legal assault on the Newark Teachers Union and the City Association of School Administrator, it’s clear Newark is in a new day.
Something has happened. I wasn’t in the room when it happened–thank you, Hamilton, for that great line–and I have no inside information but, in little more than a year, the mayor has gone from being a champion of public schools to being an ally of Christie, Cerf, and the privately-operated charters. Maybe future historians will figure it out.
But right now–it looks and smells like a big sellout.