Two of the largest national charter school chains–KIPP and Uncommon Schools–will be using their students and their students’ parents Monday in a massive lobbying effort aimed at ensuring the expansion of their businesses in Newark. The drive comes just as resistance to school privatization in the state’s largest school district has collapsed because of a deal between Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and Republican Gov.–and presidential hopeful–Chris Christie.
The lobbying effort–dubbed “Hands Off Our Future–Parent Lobby Day”–is not aimed at any effort to reduce the number of charter schools in Newark and other New Jersey cities, but rather to block a legislative effort to create a moratorium on new charter schools to study their impact on traditional public schools.
In other words, KIPP and Uncommon Schools, both chains run by boards with close ties to the financial industry, are exploiting parents and students to help grow their businesses–not to protect the education current students are receiving.
They are being used to advance the financial interests of charter chains, which want to expand.
Diane Ravitch, the former federal education official and now a nationally known critic of the corporatization of American pubic schools, pointed out the cynicism inherent in such efforts:
“Your taxpayer dollars have been used to open schools that drain resources from your public schools while selecting the students they want. If your state has charters, you can expect that they will lobby the legislature for more charters. They will close their schools, hire buses, and send students, teachers, and parents to the State Capitol, all dressed in matching T-shirts, to demand more charters.
“Since the children are already enrolled in a charter and can’t attend more than one, they are being used to advance the financial interests of charter chains, which want to expand.”
That’s worth repeating: These children and their parents are not fighting to keep their own schools open, but they are conscripts in a war waged by corporate interests against traditional public schools–a war in which the prize is the $700 billion a year spent annually on public education, a war that can be only be won by the privatizers by expanding their chains and driving out public schools.
What makes the actions of the charter school operators even more cynical is that the moratorium bill is going nowhere–they are using the dead-in-the-water legislation as an excuse to demonstrate their control over these parents and children.
If public school students who support local school budgets are NJEA’s “drug mules”–according to pro-charter Christie–then what are charter students to the corporate masters of KIPP and Uncommon Schools?
Remember what Christie said about school board elections shortly after he became governor? He accused public school teachers of using children as “drug mules” because, in some districts, children were sent home with fliers supporting passage of local school budgets.
Those budgets were peanuts compared to what’s at stake now if the feverish visions of school privatizers from both parties win the school war.
Of course, if public school employee unions organized parents and children to come to Trenton to urge, say, enforcement of the school aid law that has been ignored by Democrats and Republicans alike since Christie became governor, their leaders probably would be indicted for conspiracy.
John Abeigon, the president of the Newark Teachers Union, wrote a letter to state education Commissioner David Hespe asking whether public school students would be allowed to take a day off to go to Trenton and lobby for public schools. He wrote:
Dear Commissioner Hespe:
Do traditional public school students have permission to take Monday off to go to Trenton and lobby for their interests?
Monday, December 14th promises to be another field day for the parasitic, publicly funded, privately operated charter school industry. Will traditional Newark public school students be provided a Field Day, buses and lunch to lobby for their principals’ ability to seek a loan from Wall Street for school supplies, air conditioning and a new roof and later use taxpayer money to pay off the loan plus the interest? (All without public or legislative scrutiny).
No newspaper will ask the hard questions. For instances; who in the media dare ask to see real data on their test scores, to see the “waiting lists” they claim to possess.
Who will ask how much taxpayer money they spend on interest to loans from private financial institutions that ALSO sit on their Boards of Trustees?
If this were a local school board heads would roll and subpoenas and arrest warrants would be delivered.
It’s enough to make a traditional public school employee sick on Monday.
The lobbying effort also coincides with the expanded operation of a pro-charter organization funded by the financial industry that purports to increase “choice” among urban residents. The group, called Parent Coalition for Excellent Education (PC2E), is headed by Muhammad Akil, a former top aide to Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop.
Akil had to resign his Jersey City post after it was revealed that he had delivered a speech in Chicago decades ago in which he said that “all white people have a little Hitler in them,” that the Pope was the “anti-Christ” and he repeatedly used a homophobic slur.
But now Akil is working with and for the charters–and the privately-operated schools may have found just the right time and place to push their corporation-based agenda.
Until June, pro public school groups were growing in strength in Newark. A coalition of students, employees, and parents–backed by Mayor Baraka–took dramatic steps to demonstrate their anger with the state administration of their public schools, an administration headed by Cami Anderson. Anderson was appointed by then education commissioner Christopher Cerf to run the Newark schools for the state. Cerf was a business partner of Tim Carden, head of the trustee board for Newark’s KIPP schools. Christie once worked for Cerf as a lobbyist for his privatized educational firms. The connections are many and they are smelly.
Anderson, following Cerf’s directions, quickly pursued an agenda of closing public schools, expanding charter schools, and disrupting a tradition of neighborhood public education. She managed to run up massive deficits but was persistently supported by Cerf, the man who hired her.
A federal inquiry has shown that Cerf, while commissioner, failed to require Anderson to follow the law. Her arrogance–an arrogance nourished by Cerf’s strong backing–led to even more anger. On May 22, 2015, thousands of Newark students walked out of their schools and, joined by parents and school employees, they shut down the city’s business district and threatened to block traffic to the New Jersey Turnpike and Newark Liberty International Airport.
The restiveness threatened to expose presidential candidate Christie as a state chief executive who could not control events in his largest city. He and Baraka cut a deal that resulted in Anderson’s dismissal and a vague promise to return local control to the city schools that had been operated by the state since 1995.
The deal also brought Cerf to Newark as schools superintendent. The man who hired Anderson came back to finish the job Christie had given him.
Gradually, Baraka–once a sharp critic of privatization, state control, Christie, and Cerf–moderated his tone. He showed support for charter schools and joined with Cerf in a new “community schools” initiative.
The opposition was silenced.
Now, charter schools are expanding. Baraka’s planning board endorsed a plan by Uncommon Schools to build a new charter school within sight of City Hall. He failed to criticize KIPP’s plan to open four new charter schools. The Cerf/Baraka initiative for the city’s South Ward also may include the conversion of two public schools–Avon Avenue and Peshine Avenue–to charters.
Efforts by some legislators to slow down charter expansion have resulted in sharp criticism from the heavily-funded charter chains and their supporters in PC2E.
“Whoever can be bought in the state Legislature has been bought by the charters,” Abeigon said. He was especially critical of the Democratic members of the Essex County delegation who have been blocking passage of the charter moratorium bill, including state Sen. Theresa Ruiz (D-Essex), head of the Senate Education Committee.
Charter expansion has been crippling to the Newark school system because of the diversion of more than $200 million in state aid funds to the privately-operated schools. In addition, legislative Democrats and Christie agreed to shift an additional $67 million in state aid funds earmarked for traditional public schools to the charters.
Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools need not take every student who applies for admission and they may expel students. They do not take many special needs students and students with language problems.
But the power of Abeigon’s Newark Teachers Union–like the other organizations in the anti-corporatization coalition–is dwindling. Without Baraka’s strong support, the movement to protect traditional public schools has run aground.
The charter lobbyists may say “Hands Off Our Future”–but, in fact, the traditional public schools are those that desperately need lobbying in Trenton.
But, of course, no one would think of using children to promote a political agenda.