Camden Looks for New Charters: Is it Better to Wait?

Big news for Camden this week: the school district there, under new leadership of Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard, has put out a Request for Proposals for more charter schools.

 Under the 2012 Urban Hope Act (background here), Trenton, Newark, and Camden can open up to four new charter “Renaissance” schools in order to expand opportunities for kids who have no options other than local, failing public schools. Earlier this year the Camden School Board approved KIPP, a highly-regarded charter group, for a new school that will join resources with Cooper University Hospital.

But this decision by the Board to seek proposals for another charter, according to Education Law Center’s David Sciarra, is an ill-considered move.. KIPP ‘s not even open yet, he told the Philadelphia Inquirer (it’s scheduled to open doors in September 2014), and  “the district should focus on improving Camden public schools, including getting the state to repair and replace dilapidated Camden High."

There you have it: perhaps the greatest divide between “education reformers” and “education traditionalists.”  Does the plight of a child stuck right now, at this moment, in a classroom that no wealthier parent would accept for his or her kid, take precedence? After all, KIPP opens in eight months, another new charter (hello, Mastery?) would open a year later. Repairing and replacing dilapidated schools is, as we know in NJ, a very long process.

Or do we privilege the system of traditional schooling over the student, not to mention the tradition of NJ’s school funding ? (Charters established under the Urban Hope Act get "up to" 95% of the cost per pupil, a deviation from rigid funding formulas that ELC must protect.)

Certainly, NJ’s “dilapidated school buildings” need repair right away, and the Christie Administration’s delay is inexcusable and inexplicable. Sciarra is spot on. Not so much, in my view, on the wisdom of abandoning another set of elementary-aged children to the worst school system in the country.

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