Every week I have a piano lesson in Princeton and so I drive six miles down Route 206 from my home in Lawrence, located smack in the middle between the wealthy college town and impoverished Trenton. As I enter Princeton I pass the Peacock Inn, where the "jacuzzi suite" goes for $660 a night (off-season rate). Then I bear right on Nassau Street, Princeton's main drag, with ivied Princeton University on my right and a panoply of shops like Brooks Brothers, Ann Taylor, J.Crew, Lulumon, and Ralph Lauren on my left. The median home value in Princeton is $806,900 and the average household income is $154,468.
This is the town that, in an effort led by Princeton-based Save Our Schools-NJ, is virulently fighting a 76-student expansion to Princeton Charter School. (The D.O.E. approved the expansion last week but the district is appealing the decision.) The traditional school district's first objection is fiscal strain for those extra tuition payments, although it's worth noting that Princeton Regional Public Schools spends $24,634 annually per student. For context, that's $5,000 more than my middle-class, diverse town and even $1,500 more than impoverished Trenton, an Abbott district that, according to the old court rulings, should receive as much compensatory aid as the richest districts.
SOS-NJ and the district's second objection to the charter school's expansion is that the charter increases "segregation," despite the implementation of a lottery weighted for low-income children. Yeah, I know. Words fail me.
But they don't fail Vivek Pai, a Princeton Charter School parent who wrote this letter to a paper called Town Topics. Don't miss the tongue-in-cheek suggestion that decimates the second claim of the anti-choice cadre.
To the Editor:
I read Cara Carpenito’s letter last week asking other parents to examine their conscience [“PCS Parents Should Examine Their Conscience: Can They Continue to ‘Choose’ a Segregated School,” March 8 Mailbox]. Princeton is a town of unmistakable wealth, with average incomes triple that of our neighbor Trenton. Adding to our schools’ economic and racial segregation, we additionally bus in mostly Caucasian students from wealthy, suburban Cranbury, which is almost as far away as Trenton. Princeton and Cranbury students attend schools that afford privileges out of reach for most Trenton children. To address this issue, I implore the Board of Education to implement a voluntary program where Princeton parents who want to demonstrate their commitment to equality can offer to swap their children’s spots in Princeton schools with children from Trenton. Then, instead of having parents chastise others about segregation, and generating ill will, they can instead lead by example and serve as an inspiration to everyone.
I also read Lori Weir’s letter about eliminating sibling preference at PCS [“N.J. Commissioner of Education Decision a Case of Taxation Without Representation,” March 8 Mailbox], which even PPS uses in their lottery-based dual-language immersion program. To get some facts about who would be most impacted if siblings were split across schools, I examined the Pew Research Center report on Parenting in America. Across the United States, 33 percent of Caucasian mothers had 3 or more children, and the numbers for other racial groups were Asian (27 percent), African-American (40 percent), and Hispanic (50 percent). If Princeton has similar demographic patterns, eliminating sibling preference would impact African-Americans and Hispanics more than other racial groups. In comparison, the weighted lottery approved for PCS will increase the chances for economically disadvantaged groups. Numerically, the calls to dismantle sibling preference seem counterproductive. In the longer term, neither sibling preference nor a lottery would be needed if PCS were allowed to expand to meet all of the demand for it.