Charter Schools Rally Targets Suburbs
Codey calls fight over charter schools a 'watershed moment.'
Sen. Richard Codey told a crowd of about 120 at the Save Our Schools rally in Millburn on Tuesday night that the fight over charter schools is a “watershed moment” in education.
Codey said if so-called “boutiques” like the Hua Mei Mandarin-immersion charter school proposed for South Orange-Maplewood and neighboring districts are approved, the “the domino effect would be mind boggling.”
"No one ever talked about charter schools for the best school systems in the state of New Jersey," Codey said. "So this is a watershed moment. If this is allowed to happen there is a domino effect, it's as simple as that. You might as well almost forget about the public school system. You can imagine the kind of ‘boutique’ charter schools that would come about. Maybe the Children of the Daughters of the American Revolution. I mean it can get that stupid."
The rally was one of three statewide intended to demonstrate support for charter school reform bills pending in the state legislature. Jill Kimelman of Millburn and Alle Ries of Maplewood organized the local Save our Schools rally held inside the Bauer Center in Taylor Park. Many of the demonstrators brought their children and carried signs supporting the bill that would give voters a voice on whether charter schools could open in their school district.
Charter schools have been a contentious issue in the local towns. In recent weeks, the local school districts have sent strongly worded letters opposing the applications to the state Department of Education, and several township councils — including the Maplewood Township Committee — passed resolutions opposing charter schools in their communities.
“Charter schools are not the enemy per se,” said Assemblywoman Jasey. “They have a role, but we need to define that role and have a say in where they are located and make sure that where they are located they have the support of the community.”
Codey and Jasey, Democrats running for re-election in the new 27th District, said they fully support the reforms winding their way slowly in Trenton. It is doubtful, however, if they will have a chance for a vote before the session ends June 30.
One of the bills (A3845 and S2243) requires local approval before a new charter can open. This bill has passed the Assembly Education Committee. A second bill, (A3356) requires charter schools to have financial and educational transparency and accountability.
Millburn and the other rally locations, South Brunswick and Highland Park, were chosen because proposed language-immersion schools have created a groundswell of community support for the reforms.
Codey said while they are designated as public schools, charter schools act essentially as private schools that take district money. “Your tax dollars will follow the children to the ‘private school.’ You cannot make up (the cost) with savings because you're not going to be able to close a school. You're not going to be able to close a classroom,” he said. “There are just not enough kids."
In a statement in response to the rallies, Carlos Perez, the president and CEO of the New Jersey Charter Schools Association, took umbrage with the notion that charter schools are essentially private schools paid for with public money.
“Charters are public schools open to all and they are funded with taxes – the taxes paid by the parents of kids sitting at desks in a charter school. State education policy calls for the funding to follow the student, not the district,” he said.
Opposition to the charter schools has spurred many local residents who have not previoulsy been part of the political process to act by writing letters to state lawmakers and also by organizing petitions that now have hundreds of names.
Matt Stewart of Millburn Parents Against Charter Schools and Jerry Meng of Save Our Public Schools over Charters, for instance, both attended Tuesday’s rally for the groups they represent.
”I’m here for 319 people and Jerry’s here for about 600,” Stewart said. "Having the legislators here is the most critical. They need to do their jobs so we don’t have to keep doing this.”
The Livingston Township Council passed a resolution opposing any charter school from opening in Livingston. Mayor Rudy Fernandez said, "It's not a question whether it's a Mandarin immersion school or a science school. What's really important ... is that this is going to be an incredible burden on the local taxpayers at a time when the state aid is being cut to the school boards and towns have incredible pressures on their budgets."
Perez, in his statement released earlier on Tuesday, addressed the bill that would require community approval.
“Requiring a referendum on charter schools is not only bad public policy, it undermines the entire premise of a charter school. It’s a reaction to a challenge of the status quo by the entrenched education establishment to stop the thriving charter school movement in New Jersey in its tracks,” he said in the statement.
He went on to say that charter schools are unique public schools intended to provide parents and children options.
“Charter schools are created to fill a void in the traditional public school curriculum,” he said. “If a significant number of parents don’t think a void exists, the local effort to form a school would go nowhere. Charters are a perfect example of supply and demand. No demand — no supply.”
Assemblyman Albert Coutinho, who also attended the Milburn rally, said "Public education in New Jersey is in pretty good shape. However in our urban areas we have a crisis. Therefore we need to focus our fixes in those areas that aren't working. Charter schools can be part of the answer, and they should be part of the answer in our urban areas."
"But let's hold them accountable," Coutinho said. "Let's not have them disrupt where things are working."
Jon Blinderman of Livingston – who delivered a petition that now has more than 800 names to hisschool board members last month – on Tuesday night was invited by Save Our Schools to speak at the Millburn rally.
“They say (the opposition to the Chinese charter schools) is dividing the community in Livingston, but this is not anti-Mandarin or anti-Asian. It’s not about that,” Blinderman said. “I would stand up against it if it were Hebrew-immersion or Spanish immersion or NFL-immersion.”
He referred to the Acting Commission of Education Christopher Cerf’s quote that charter schools might not be necessary in districts that are “humming along.”
"Millburn and Livingston are a freaking symphony orchestra; they are not just humming along,” he said. “I challenge you to find districts more excellent than Livingston and Millburn."
Codey in his remarks agreed. "It's unbelievable that we're here tonight having this discussion.”