Lauren Wells Has it Wrong: Parent Choice IS Collective Power

In an editorial in NJ Spotlight this week, Lauren Wells, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka’s former chief education officer, praises the NAACP’s resolution for a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools.  In doing so, she confirms the fears of  school choice advocates expressed by Sharif El-Mekki, principal of Mastery Charter School Shoemaker Campus in Philadelphia, who wrote that the NAACP "is an acronym for the National Association for the Advancement of Certain People. It is conspicuously not for the advancement of the millions of Black families trying to escape failing systems and schools.”

We can all agree that public schools should serve the needs of public school children and families. So, what do Newark parents want? Ms. Wells answers this question herself:
 In Newark from the 2013-2014 to the 2015-2016 school years, charter school enrollment increased 55 percent from 9,334 to 14,501 students.
Clearly, many Newark families -- more than the sector can provide (10,000 children sit on waiting lists) --- want their children to enroll in public charter schools. Yet Ms. Wells would stymie student need in order to preserve a long-failing bureaucracy.

Of course, the flight of families from long-failing schools to  educational hope is a fiscal drain on the Newark Public Schools district. Ms. Wells correctly notes that “NPS charter school payments increased to $225 million, representing 27% of the NPS [one billion dollar per year]  operating budget.”  This shift from one public sector to another is burdensome for an institution with huge overhead and under-enrolled buildings. That’s why last Spring the State gave NPS an additional $27 million to compensate for the burden.

But Ms. Wells is precisely wrong when she posits (as she did a year ago in an editorial posted at Save Our Schools-NJ),
A market-driven public education agenda has been passed off as school reform that is in the interest of the black and brown children often living in poverty and educated in Newark's public schools. 
Politically well-connected wealthy people have used their power and resources to impose educational policies on our community, our schools and our children. Individual interests have been manipulated to diminish collective power.
“Impose” educational “policies”? Manipulation” of “individual interests” to “diminish collective power”? She’s got it backwards. Parent choice is collective power. Parent choice is the triumph of people living in poverty over political bureaucracy. Parent choice is the repeal of manipulation over children’s academic freedom.

Newark Public School district must evolve to fit a shifting public education landscape. That's hard. But denying "the interests of black and brown children often living in poverty" doesn't trump difficult adjustments. Ms. Wells should rethink her thesis.

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