Monday, May 16, 2011

Four Degrees of NEA

Question: how many degrees of separation are there between the broadening coalition opposing the expansion of charter schools in New Jersey and the National Education Association?

First, a news hook and a bit of back story. On Saturday morning New Jersey School Boards Association’s Delegate Assembly overwhelming approved an emergency resolution put forth by the Princeton Board of Education that would require voter approval for the authorization of any new public charter school. The approval implicitly supports a pending bill sponsored by Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan (and, as NJ Spotlight reports, complicates prospects for a more carefully crafted bill that would expand authorizers beyond the DOE, sponsored by Assemblywoman Mila Jasey).

NJSBA’s disapprobation of charter school expansion is right in line with the political agendae of other education groups like Education Law Center, Garden State Coalition of Schools, and a new group called Save Our Schools NJ (SOS NJ). Their well-coordinated message is simple: taxpayers cough up the dough for public education so taxpayers should have veto power within their communities regarding the opening of any taxpayer-supported charter school. Anything else is taxation without representation, right? If a potential charter school wants to open, then it can put the question to a vote during election season.

And, depending, on your wont, it's either a plus or a minus that Diegnan's bill and the attendant sentiments would kill off charter school expansion, certainly in suburban neighborhoods and most likely in poor urban areas. For local unions it's a plus because most charter schools employ non-unionized teachers and administrators.

It’s all about money, of course, not that there’s anything wrong with that. SOS NJ was started in 2010 by Princeton parents concerned that the local school budget wouldn’t pass, so they successfully mobilized residents. Empowered by that victory, enraged by the local success of Princeton Charter School, and determined to stop a Mandarin immersion school in nearby South Brunswick (which will open in September), it’s expanded its agenda to fighting anything that threatens suburban district budgets. (Here’s SOS NJ’s agenda.)

Back to our Kevin Bacon game. SOS NJ is a new member of a national organization called Parents Across America, which battles Race To the Top, charter schools, and other education reform initiatives. The other two NJ groups listed as affiliates are Parents Unified for Local Education (PULSE), a Newark-based anti-reform group, and New Jersey Parents Against Governor Christie’s Budget Cut.

Parents Across America is funded by NEA. SOS-PAA-NEA-NJEA. Got it in four!

Fun aside, it’s bigger than that. Earlier today a divided Georgia court struck down a law that allowed the Georgia Charter Schools Commission to authorize charter schools in spite of community opposition. From Education Week:
[T]he state commission was created in 2008 by frustrated lawmakers who said they were upset that local school boards were rejecting charter petitions because they didn't like the competition.

The legislation sparked a revolt by school districts which filed a lawsuit a year later claiming the commission violated state law by unfairly taking funding away from the districts and giving it to charter schools. They claimed the commission was actually taking local tax dollars without the approval of local taxpayers.
Sound familiar?

Here's a end-of-game puzzler. Parents Across America professes that "parents must have a significant voice in policies at the school, district, state and national levels." Yet the group fought mightily against the Parent Trigger bill in Compton, CA, which would allow a parent vote on whether or not to close a chronically failing school. From the press release: "The Parent Trigger gives parents 'no opportunity to choose among more positive reforms, and fails to promote the best practices for parent involvement from the ground up.'" Hey -- either you trust the judgement of parents or you don't. Unless, maybe, they're poor urban parents who crave educational alternatives.

Meanwhile, there's 18,000 schoolchildren on waiting lists for charter schools in New Jersey.


Julia said...

Save Our Schools NJ can't be both a bunch of selfish parents in Princeton and a front for the NEA. In reality, we're neither.

We are a completely grassroots group with no funding or staff. So, we are not beholden or controlled by anyone.

We began in Princeton but now have members in each of New Jersey's 40 legislative districts. So, we're not just about Princeton issues or even just suburban ones as our members include rural, urban and suburban voters across the state who share our committment to public education.

Perhaps the real question is why Ms. Waters can't take on our policy proposals directly instead of trying to find a way to discredit us as an organization?

NJ Left Behind said...

Hi, Julia. Actually I cover charter policy proposals in some depth. Here's a story at NJ Spotlight:

Just search "charter schools" on the blog and you'll see much more. To get you started, here's two:


vulgate said...

The NJDOE has failed miserably in identifying and fixing failing schools and closing failed schools over the last say 30 years. Diverting resources to add more public charter public schools when the NJDOE can't even handle the Abbott schools is simply poor policy. Making it worse is the clear signal to those who are left behind on virtual Titanic's that "the anointed" will be put in the lifeboats while they will go down with the ship! All resources of NJDOE/Governor's Office/NJAG should be directed at fixing the failing schools and closing the failed schools end of story. Some experimental charters should continue but not as waiting for superman surrogates.

Julia said...


This as not a battle of wealthy vs. poor communities.

Save Our Schools NJ believes New Jersey's charter school law is broken for ALL communities. To address that, we are advocating the following reforms:

1. Local communities -- whether poor or rich -- must have control over the opening of new charter schools in their districts.

2. NJ charter school students should represent the demographics of their sending districts. Charter schools educate fewer Limited English Proficiency students, very poor students, and students with special needs than the sending districts as a whole. Each of these groups is more expensive to educate than the general population. Since charter schools reduce the resources that a district has to educate its students, districts with charter schools are left with fewer resources to meet the needs of a population of students that is more expensive to educate.

3. The existing charter school legislation does not include necessary accountability and financial transparency provisions.

We are happy to have a policy discussion around any of these issues that is based on a thorough analysis of the data.