There's No Armanis in Camden

Today’s NJ Spotlight, Star-Ledger, and the Asbury Park Press highlight a veritable groundswell of wealthy parents and school district officials fighting the influx of charter schools into their neighborhoods. This movement seems to have dominated yesterday's Senate budget hearing where, according to Spotlight,
Education Commissioner Chris Cerf testified as to the growing tensions that have surfaced -- especially in suburban communities -- over the new schools.

To him, it was unequivocal that local districts and their voters not have a direct say in the alternative schools, which operate under state charter.

"If it were up to local municipalities, it would essentially kill charter schools," Cerf said.
Anti-charter school advocates who spoke at the hearing came from Millburn, East Brunswick, and Princeton. In NJ we rate a community’s wealth by its DFG, a socio-economic ranking. A is the poorest and J is the richest. Milburn is a J; Princeton and East Brunswick are I’s.

It’s no wonder that these residents of districts with high-performing traditional public schools express adamant resistance to autonomous charters, which in these neighborhoods tend to be sort of boutique schools, like Mandarin or Hebrew immersion programs. Neiman Marcus is right in the neighborhood but some people would rather shop at Armani. De gustibus non disputandum est.

It’s not a matter of taste in poor urban districts, those A’s and B’s, where the traditional public schools are like dingy flea markets and there’s nary a Sears or Kohls nearby. In these neighborhoods, public charters are general education programs that accept all comers and provide a vital education option.

Once again: perhaps we should put our energy into expansion of charter schools in the neighborhoods that need them. It’s not worth the fight in Millburn or Princeton – the kids will be fine either way, and the political costs are high. It is worth the fight in Camden, Plainfield, Paterson, Trenton, however, where the presence of a high-quality autonomous public school (i.e., a charter) is a lifeline for a lot more than fashion.

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