Education Law Center is back on the charter-hating trail again as it determinedly battles impoverished parents in long-failing districts who prefer school choice. Yesterday the organization that protects Abbott district funding took umbrage at the fact that New Jersey charter schools “carry a significant amount of surplus fund balance” while traditional schools are subjected to a 2% cap.
“We call on Education Commissioner David Hespe to immediately review charter school fund balances and apply the same 2% limit that districts must adhere to,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. “The Commissioner should then direct the charters to either return the excess surplus to district budgets or deduct the excess from future district payments to the charters.”
One little piece of information: New Jersey charter school law declines to offer any facilities aid to charters. They must raise all construction costs, along with attendant fees, on their own. District school facilities in Abbott districts are fully paid by the state. If you had to build your own house, you’d be saving money too.
And in yesterday’s Daily Record, Sciarra made the fallacious claim that Newark Public Schools “is in worse shape...Sciarra believes the growth of charter schools has hurt traditional schools by siphoning off money, as well as students from the families most motivated to succeed.”
Certainly, NPS is hurting for money with its $15 million budget gap. But, just for a moment, let’s wrench our eyes from the cash and look at the kids.
- Newark parents are voting for alternatives other than traditional district schools. For example,during the first round of the universal enrollment program called One Newark, 42% of Newark parents listed a charter as their first choice.
- 4.595 families listed North Star or KIPP as their first choice, but there were only 1,800 slots.
A few high-performing district schools are also popular:
- Ann Street was listed as the 1st choice for 225 kindergarteners but the school had only 135 available seats. Magnet schools like Science Park, Arts, Bard, Technology, and University were also oversubscribed.
How much do Newark families care about enrolling their children in their neighborhood school, the constant claim of ELC, as well as its fellow travelers Save Our Schools?
- Out of 2,481 kindergarten applications in Round 1, only 25% of chose their closest school as their first choice.
- Three out of four families preferred a school that was not their neighborhood school.
And what about ELC’s claims (amplified by acolytes like Mark Weber, Bruce Baker, and Julia Sass Rubin) that charters “cream off” kids who only qualify for “reduced lunch” instead of the poorer kids who qualify for “free lunch?”
- The percentage of students who qualify for free lunch (not reduced lunch) is almost exactly the same among charter and district schools. Currently district schools serve 1%-2% more free lunch students but the gap is quickly diminishing. If trends continue, charter schools will serve more free lunch students than district schools.
Finally, how about student achievement since the growth of school choice in Newark? Are children in traditional district schools suffering from the shift of some of their classmates to charters?
- Among all Newark public schools, charter and traditional, achievement of African-American students is increasing, although charter school students are performing at a significantly higher level than district school students.
- In 2006, about 4% of Newark students (charter and district) beat the NJ state average. In 2014, about 23 % beat the NJ state average.
- African-American students in both charter and district schools improved achievement from 2006-2014. In 2006, 19% beat the state average. In 2014 40% did.
The Daily Record article itself gently disputes Sciarra’s claim that student achievement is suffering by noting that “the graduation rate made a big jump from 2011 to 2012 and has been relatively steady since then. Cerf said the improving graduation rate is significant and so is another development — that teachers rated as 'ineffective' started leaving their jobs more often than those deemed 'effective' or 'highly effective.'"
So what’s ELC’s beef? Simple. It’s protecting its turf, those famous Abbott compensatory funding decisions that derive from N.J.’s failure to provide students with school options other than flat-lining in low-performing districts that don’t offer a “thorough and effective education.” Charter schools – traditional charters or hybrid charter/district schools like those in Camden – can provide that option. ELC should celebrate them, at least the best ones (like the ones Newark and Camden parents choose), but instead it attacks them. The only rational conclusion is that the once-proud organization cares more about money than it does about schoolchildren.
Labels: Abbott, camden, Cerf, Education Law Center, Newark, school choice, school funding