This credo -- "we will live by choice and not by chance" echoed through Trenton’s Masonic Hall on Monday morning as two hundred charter school parents chanted together as they prepared for a series of meetings with New Jersey legislators. The “Charter Parent Action Day,” organized by JerseyCAN, the Better Education Institute, and the New Jersey Charter School Association, was in response to a series of current and pending challenges to N.J.'s public charter schools that enrolls more than 45,000 students in 88 public charter schools. These challenges include:
- a charter moratorium proposed by Assembly Education Committee chairman Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex) and Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex);
- a court challenge by Education Law Center (which is largely funded by NJEA and allied with the Princeton-based Save our Schools-NJ) that argues that the State’s authorization of charter school expansion in Newark based on parent demand is “arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable";
- Demands from NJEA that beholden legislators vote against new charter school regulations that would benefit children;
- The likelihood of NJ’s next governor being less friendly to public school choice than Chris Christie. (N.J.’s antiquated charter school law delegates charter authorization solely to political appointees.);
- Six civil rights complaints instigated by a group called “NJ Latino Coalition” (which doesn’t actually represent Latino parents) that charges that charter schools, specifically Red Band Charter School and Princeton Charter School cherry-pick children and increase segregation. (This doesn't happen because applicants are chosen by random lotteries, although some are weighted to increase enrollment of low-income children and those of color.)
I wish Assembly members Diegnan and Jasey were there. I wish Education Law Center’s Executive Director David Sciarra was there. I wish Democratic gubernatorial front-runner Phil Murphy was there. I wish SOS-NJ’s leaders were there.
If they were, they would have heard Eladio Diaz, a LEAP charter school parent in Camden, plead to Assemblyman Arthur Barkley (once we got to the Statehouse), “why should we have to fight for the only thing that we have?”
If they were, they would have heard Newark charter school father Altorice Frazier exhort the parents to “stand tall” because “we won’t stand for anything less.”
If they were, they would have heard Charles Love, charter parent and a candidate for the Newark School Board, remind the parents that “we are those who can change and correct the errors of our forefathers…. We’re the ones who are going to change it.”
If they were, they would have heard Haneef Auguste, Newark father of four children who attend who attend KIPP, one of the charters targeted by ELC, explain, “I made a conscious decision to send my four children to KIPP New Jersey Schools because I wanted something better for my children and couldn’t afford to move or pay for private school. No one should stand in the way of any child’s chance at a better life, especially when the circumstances in some of our communities are so dire.”
Before those two hundred parents left the Masonic Hall to head for State Street, Education Commissioner Kimberly Harrington told them, “your voices are being heard.”
Now if only someone would listen.