Archives for category: New Jersey

Darcie Cimarusti is a school board member in New Jersey and Communications Director of the Network for Public Education. Her telling of charter school greed in New Jersey reminded me of the song called “On That Great Come and Get It Day” from “Finian’s Rainbow.” No “Come and Get It Day” for public schools, onLy for politically connected charter schools. And for those who believe that charters play by the same rules as public schools, take a look at those salaries for charter principal. A sweet deal.

She writes here with meticulous documentation about how some charters in New Jersey took a generous portion of Paycheck Protection Program funds, whose ostensible purpose was to help small businesses survive the economic shutdown caused by the pandemic. The charters that grabbed big bucks were never in danger of losing their funding. Thirty years ago, the original goal of charter schools was to demonstrate that they could achieve better results at less cost and be more accountable. Their new goal seems to be to scoop up as much money as they can.

New Jersey’s charter schools walk a constant tightrope. Although publicly funded by state and local tax dollars reallocated from under-funded public school districts, charters are privately managed by appointed boards and are often less accountable to the public.

In recent years, there has been no more striking example of this tenuous balancing act than the charter sector’s “double dip” into Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding. The charter sector flexed their lobbying muscle and ensured charter schools were eligible both for 100% forgivable loans as nonprofit entities through the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and for grants as Local Education Agencies (LEA) through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund that also funded local public schools. PPP forgivable loans, which were meant to help struggling small businesses pay their employees, were slyly used by charter schools and their management organizations, even though the charters had maintained their dedicated funding stream of tax dollars.

Although the Trump Administration originally refused to reveal where and how the PPP funds were distributed, once the list of recipients was released, The Network for Public Education (NPE) began working to ascertain how much funding was given to charter schools and the management organizations that run them.

NPE compared ProPublica’s database, which provides loan amounts in ranges, with lists of charter schools provided by individual states and identified between $925 million and $2.2 billion in PPP loans to charters and CMOs.

As part of NPE’s investigation, I compared New Jersey’s list of charter schools with ProPublica’s database of loans and created a list of New Jersey charter schools and charter management organizations (CMOs) that received PPP forgivable loans.

The New Jersey Double Dippers

In total, between $25.6 and $61.8 million in PPP forgivable loans were awarded to New Jersey charter schools and their CMOS. Thirty-seven New Jersey charters schools received between $27.9 and $65.1 million, and four CMOs received an additional $2.65 to $6.7 million.

Charter schools also received an additional $10,084,128 in ESSER grant funds, with amounts as low as $4,410 to Ridge and Valley Charter School and as high as $1,229,935 to Mastery Schools of Camden, a group of Renaissance charter schools.

Many of New Jersey’s CMOs Took a Triple Dip Out of CARES Funding

Four Charter Management Organizations that run nine charter schools that took PPP forgivable loans, also accessed forgivable loans for themselves.

iLearn is a CMO that operates a chain of charter schools alleged to be affiliated with the Turkish Gulen movement. The CMO received a forgivable loan of between $350,000 and $1 million and the four New Jersey schools received PPP forgivable loans totalling $6 to $14 million. Only three charter schools in New Jersey received PPP forgivable loans worth $2 to $4 million, and two were iLearn schools. With the addition of just over $1.4 million in ESSER grants, the iLearn chain brought in between $7.4 and $15.4 million in federal subsidies – more than any other chain in the state. According to the most recently available 990s, iLearn had a healthy fund balance of $1.3 million and individual iLearn schools had fund balances as high as $1.3 million as well.

KIPP New Jersey, the CMO that oversees KIPP schools in Camden and Newark, received a $2 to $5 million forgivable loan – the largest of any CMO in the state. According to their 2017 form 990, the organization had an almost $12 million fund balance and CEO Ryan Hill earned a handsome $265,341 salary. KIPP Cooper Norcross also received a $2 to $5 million PPP forgivable loan, in addition to over $1 million in ESSER grant funds.

College Achieve Public Schools, a small CMO managing three locations, received $150,000 to $350,000 in forgivable loans. Additionally, the Asbury Park and Paterson charter school locations each received $350,000 to $1 million, and the Plainfield location received $1 to $2 million in forgivable loans. In total, College Achieve received $1.85 to $4.35 million in PPP forgivable loans, and the three schools banked another $751,735 in ESSER grant funds. College Achieve served less than 1,300 students in the 2017-18 school year, yet CEO Mike Piscal took home over $251,000 in compensation. Two other employees made over $200,000 as well, with one earning $265,397 and the other $230,998. An NJ Advance Media analysis of state data found that in 2017-18 the average superintendent salary was $155,631 and only 30 superintendents in the state earned over $200,000.

Philip’s Education Partners, a CMO that manages two charters – one in Newark and one in Paterson – received a $150,000 to $350,000 forgivable loan. The Paterson location got $350,000 to $1 million, and another $147,251 in ESSER grant funds. The Newark location didn’t receive PPP money, but did get $187,343 in ESSER grants. In total Philip’s Education Partners and its schools took in $500,000 to $1.35 million in PPP forgivable loans and another $334,594 in ESSER grants. The two schools served just over 500 students in the 2017-18 school year but CEO Miguel Brito made a staggering $410,205, over $100,000 more than any other school leader in the state.

Philip’s Academy Newark was the first private to charter school conversion in New Jersey and in many ways seems to continue to operate more like a private school than a public school. The former St. Phillips Academy, founded by an Episcopal church, was flush with $5 million in gifts and grants when it was awarded charter status. With the new-found steady stream of tax dollars, Brito said the cash on hand would “go into capital projects rather than operating expenses.” The CMO ended the 2017-18 fiscal year with over $21 million in net assets, and employed a “Chief Philanthropy Officer” earning a six-figure salary.

Charters Have a Dedicated Funding Stream, So Why Accept PPP Loans?

The examples above demonstrate that PPP forgivable loans went to CMOs and schools with healthy fund balances and enough cash on hand to pay exorbitant salaries.

Investigations in other states have uncovered recordings of board discussions related to the acceptance of PPP loans. For example, a Utah Military Academy charter school board member stated that the PPP money could supplant funds budgeted to pay salaries, and the already allocated dollars could “go into our accounts to help flush up our funds.”

One board member objected, stating that the money was meant for businesses struggling to keep their employees, and that the charter’s “funding wasn’t cut at all,” but her colleagues shot back “We’re a business,” and, “We’re a nonprofit.”

A review of New Jersey charter school minutes led to a frustrating discovery. New Jersey regulations state that charter schools must post board minutes on their websites to comply with the Open Public Meetings Act, yet only fourteen of the thirty-seven schools that received PPP loans had up-to-date minutes that were detailed enough to contain resolutions accepting the PPP loans. Many websites have no minutes at all, and the majority of the minutes that are accessible are, by and large, sparse on details. This leaves the public mostly in the dark regarding how and why most New Jersey charter schools decided to apply for and accept PPP loans.

Minutes of the May 20 meeting of the Achieve Community Charter School show that the board of trustees voted unanimously to accept a PPP loan, and the board resolution explained that the charter would “not be able to conduct its annual gala” which could lead to a reduction in staff.

A handful of other charter schools, all under contract with School Business Office LLC, a for-profit provider of school business management services that took its own $150,000 to $350,000 forgivable loan, passed virtually identical resolutions that cited a list of “examples of economic uncertainty” impacting K-12 districts as a whole, as the reason to accept the loans.

The resolutions also cited a possible “reduction in State Charter Aid.” As a result of COVID-19 Governor Murphy reduced state aid to schools by $335 million, which will likely result in a decrease in per-pupil charter funding next year. However, charter schools suffered no uncertainty or reduction in aid that school districts didn’t also suffer, and school districts weren’t eligible for PPP loans to fill their budget gaps.

Paterson superintendent Eileen Shafer has been clear that district students “get scraps” after state funds allotted to the district are redirected to charters. The perpetually beleaguered school district, facing a $16.4 million reduction in state funding due to the coronavirus pandemic, resorted to asking the public for donations to provide students with laptops to bridge the digital divide.

It seems the simplest answer as to why charter schools and their CMOs applied for and accepted PPP loans is that they could. The national charter lobby ensured that charters were eligible both as nonprofits and as LEAs, and many of New Jersey’s charter schools were willing to take the funds meant to save small businesses and nonprofits from the ravages of the COVID-19 economy.

Now that this information is public, charters and their CMOs should return PPP loans, so that the money can be redistributed to New Jersey’s small businesses that have truly been harmed by the pandemic. For those that don’t, the state should deduct the amount they received from any future relief provided to schools through the CARES Act.

Either charters are public schools or private entities – they can’t have it both ways.

Juan Gonzalez is a veteran journalist who wrote a regular column for the “New York Daily News” for many years. He retired from the “News” but frequently appears on “Democracy Now” as co-host with Amy Goodman. Gonzalez is renowned as an investigative reporter and champion of justice. He wrote this post for the blog.


New Brunswick, New Jersey Community Fights to Save a Public School
From Corporate Hospital Industry Expansion

A plan by the political and financial elite of Central New Jersey to demolish a downtown New Brunswick public school this summer so that one of the state’s largest hospital chains can embark on a $750-million expansion has provoked repeated street protests since January, drawn hundreds of angry parents and community residents to public meetings and has already spawned two lawsuits – even in the midst of the coronavirus lockdown.

​The fight to save the Lincoln Annex Public School has emerged as a classic David-and-Goliath battle. On one side are New Brunswick’s low-income Latino residents. More than 50 per cent of the city’s population is Hispanic. Most are immigrants from Mexico and Central America, and many reside in rented houses surrounding the downtown business district. They have garnered support from a dozen Rutgers student organizations and the Rutgers faculty union, AAUP-AFT.

Arrayed against that community alliance is a group of powerful and entrenched institutions that have long pursued a policy of gentrifying the city. They include Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, the Rutgers Cancer Institute, the New Brunswick Development Corp. (DEVCO), and the Middlesex County Democratic Party machine, led by Mayor James Cahill, who has ruled New Brunswick for nearly 30 years.
​​​
​Last June, RWJ/Barnabas Health, Rutgers and several major state politicians announced plans to build a new 12-story $750-million cancer research and treatment pavilion. At the time, however, they didn’t specify the exact location of the new building, even though internal emails later obtained by parent advocates show they had already decided where. Within months, some local media began reporting that talks were underway behind the scene for the city’s Board of Education to sell a public middle school across the street from RWJ, so that the school could be demolished and the cancer pavilion erected there.

​Lincoln Annex School has an enrollment of 760 children, more than 94% of them Hispanic and more than 80% from economically disadvantaged families. Many parents of the students are not eligible voters and therefore have very little political influence. The school, however, was only opened in September of 2016, after the city purchased the former St. Peter’s elementary and high school, and completely renovated the site at a cost to taxpayers of $22 million. As a result, Lincoln Annex is in far better condition than other schools in the district, and it happens to be one of the city’s best performing schools, with an excellent gifted and talented program.

​Throughout the fall and winter, hundreds of parents and residents began attending the monthly school board meetings to ask if it was true that the city was about to sell their school. At each meeting, the BOE members insisted these were just rumors, or informal discussions, that nothing was on the table. Not until early February did Mayor Cahill officially acknowledge the school would be sold and demolished by this summer. He immediately launched a public relations campaign, claiming “cancer can’t wait,” and he labeled opponents of the plan as somehow opposed to cancer treatment.

​The plan is to relocate the Lincoln Annex students in September to a “swing space” the school district leases on the outskirts of town, nearly two miles from the current Lincoln Annex. The building is actually a warehouse in an industrial park that was converted into classrooms. The students would attend that “swing space” for at least three years until a replacement school is built. Given the notorious delays in school construction, it could likely be much longer. The last school population that was relocated there, the Redshaw School, ended up with pupils spending 10 years in the facility due to such delays.

​Robert Wood Johnson and its developer, DEVCO, have promised to pay for the new school. Initially, they mentioned $25 million. But as community opposition grew, they upped the offer to $50 million, then to $55 million. Still, the students would have to be bused to the “swing space” for years while the new school is built, disrupting their education.

​To make matters worse, Mayor Cahill initially proposed a vacant brownfield site also on the outskirts of town for the new replacement school. The Coalition to Defend Lincoln Annex, the alliance of community groups that formed, soon obtained state environmental records that revealed the site was hopelessly contaminated with heavy metals and carcinogenic chemicals, which the city and its private owners had not been able to remediate after 10 years of effort. Once the group made that information public, the city came up with a new site, one closer to the current Lincoln Annex, but one that is still a contaminated brownfield site. The extent of that contamination is not known because of delays in state responses to freedom of information requests since the COVID-19 lockdown.

​All the while, parents and community residents mounted numerous protests – at Board of Education meetings, at meetings of the Rutgers Board of Governors, at City Council meetings and at Planning Board meetings, but officials continued to ignore the public pressure and bulldoze ahead. As many as 200 people showed up to the Feb. 25 board of education meeting, all in opposition.

​Even the Catholic Church was drawn into the fray. When the Diocese of Metuchen sold the site to the Board of Education in 2013, it specifically included a deed restriction that the property had to be used as a “public school or for public administrative purposes” for fifty years. The parents, most of whom are Catholic, began to ask Bishop James Checchio to invoke the deed restriction and prevent the sale. They even appealed to Cardinal Joseph Tobin in Newark and to Pope Francis for help. Church leaders have declined to meet, but the bishop keeps issuing statements that he wishes to reach some kind of agreement with all parties.

​Faced with such overwhelming uproar, the New Brunswick Board of Education has resorted to limiting public testimony, ousting people from meetings, conducting official business in private, and otherwise violating state regulations on how to close or erect new public schools.

​Even after the coronavirus pandemic erupted, city officials kept moving forward with their plans, holding all meetings in telephonic conversations that further limited public participation. Initially, they claimed that the new school would not cost taxpayers a penny because Robert Wood Johnson would pay for the whole project. But then early this month, the Middlesex County Freeholders suddenly voted out of the blue to provide $25 million for the new cancer pavilion.

​At one point, members of the Coalition attempted to seek help from New Jersey’s non-profit Educational Law Center, which famously spearheaded the historic Abbott v. Burke decision thirty years ago that mandated the equalizing of state funding for public schools. But the center never responded. Only later did Coalition members learn that David Sciarra, the civil rights attorney who heads the law center, is also on the board of directors of DEVCO, the non-profit developer that is sponsoring this project!

​The Coalition eventually went outside of New Jersey, to a New York based Hispanic civil rights law firm, LatinoJustice/PRLDEF. Last week LatinoJustice filed two key actions. One is a complaint in Middlesex County Superior Court on behalf of parents and residents to enforce the deed restriction against a sale and raising key issues of violations of due process in the decision to sell the school. The other is a complaint to New Jersey Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet, asking him to reject the Long-Range Facilities Plan that New Brunswick submitted a few weeks ago to the state, which must approve any school district’s amendments to its school facilities.

​The degree of wealth and power confronting this parent-community coalition is breath-taking. Twenty executives of the the non-profit RWJ hospital and its parent chain received more than $1 million in compensation in 2018, a review of their IRS 990 tax form shows, topped by RWJ/BarnabasHealth’s CEO Barry Ostrowsky’s $4.9 million, northern regional president Thomas Biga’s $3.5 million, and RWJ President John Gantner’s $2.1 million. Dr. Steven Libutti, director of the Rutgers Cancer Institute, was paid $1.1 million; Christopher Paladino, the chief executive of DEVCO, received nearly $700,000. All of this raises serious issues about how public education policy is being driven by corporate interests, how public officials are seizing on the COVID-19 pandemic, in shock doctrine style, to push through their agenda without public accountability, and why a supposed “sanctuary city” like New Brunswick is running rough-shod over the interests of its immigrant community.
​Meanwhile, parents and community leaders have repeatedly said they will continue to resist the sale of Lincoln Annex.

​For more information, follow Defend Lincoln Annex on facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/Defendamos-Lincoln-Annex-110326327234225/

Jersey Jazzman (aka Mark Weber) just celebrated his first 10 years as a blogger.

He explains that he started blogging because he was so outraged by Chris Christie’s constant attacks on teachers, unions, and public schools.

Along the way, he decided that he needed to upgrade his skills and analytical ability, so he earned a doctorate at Rutgers University.

It has been my pleasure to post many of JJ’s blogs, which have been consistently honest, thoughtful, and rigorous (in the best sense of the word).

By telling the truth, JJ became a leader of the Resistance.

Happy BlogDecadeDay, JJ!

Keith E. Benson is president of the Camden (New Jersey) Education Association. In his view, the underlying goal of the charter industry is gentrification, and he worries about its long-term implications for his community and its families.

He writes:

Admittedly [my] fight for Camden’s public schools is personal. Both my grandmothers were teachers, numerous aunts, and two of my uncles were employees of the District where I, myself, taught before becoming president of the city’s teacher union in 2017. My daughter goes to school here and has since she was three. My wife went to school here until her freshman year of high school, and she grew up here. We all live here now. Because of such deep and intimate connections I have with this public school district and city, anything that threatens the sustainability is triggering.

The planned dismantling of our public-school system coupled with a massive redevelopment effort dubbed “Camden Rising”, reduces merely existing here in the future to a tenuous proposition for many working class and poor residents. For generations of Camden’s current residents, and new arrivals here from Latin America, this city is one of the last affordable places in New Jersey folks can reside. Redevelopment after all, is not singularly about buildings and urban spaces, but also demographics. Municipal redevelopment always has a human cost; and those often left footing the bill through rising rents and displacement are typically those who can least afford it.

The deliberate dismantling of urban school districts as witnessed in Chicago, Philadelphia , Atlanta, Newark, NYC and other urban localities is central to remaking cities and courting new potential residents. As covered in Education Reform and Gentrification in the Age of #CamdenRising, what is taking place in Camden now, is no different than what we’ve seen unfold across America. If places that were once affordable for the impoverished and working class, cease to be affordable, what happens to them? Where do they go? How do they fare? As such I have developed a disdain for anything that threatens the tenuous sense of tranquility and order those at the margins may have – with residential housing, and the right to exist in their domicile being central to that sense of order. As such, I recognize the dismantling of urban school systems as more than simply a takeover of buildings and upending of staff, but as central to neoliberal cities’ efforts to separate from vulnerable populations they deem undesirable.

Which brings me to Reason Number 1 as to the Problems I have with the Education Reform Community: Their Committed Ignorance that Urban Education Reform aka “School Choice”, through Dismantling Public Schools is More Subversive than Simply Improving Educational Trajectories for Students of Color.

To be clear, I am making a distinction between parents who send their children to charter schools, and the platformed (Black) Education Reform Proponents. I recognize that parents in many cases are trying to do what they believe is best aligned with their living situation, and for their child. This critique is NOT for them. (In fact, to be clear, it is my position that it is a parent’s responsibility to do what they deem best for their child, including deciding what school is a good fit for them.)

The Education Reform establishment however, refuses speak to, and remains unconcerned about, the connection between low income housing, rental rates and the dismantling of urban public schools low income housing, rental rates and the dismantling of urban public schools. Worse yet, while occupying ample space on the internet, social media, and in top newspaper’s Op/Ed columns, they also never make such connections known to the largely ignorant (and trusting) public while advocating for the destruction of urban schools; never mention the connection between real estate prices and the establishing of charter schools; and never mention how the existence of urban schools labeled “failing” frustrates development in keeping rent and taxes low, while keeping potential gentrifiers out. In Reformers’ advocacy, urban schools have no connection to neighborhood affordability worth mentioning, future availability of affordable housing for students and their parents. As such, they have actively chosen to keep their focus on the “quality schools” talking point. They are willfully deceptive, or negligently myopic in focusing solely on schools as if students’ output is not impacted by the housing uncertainty which initiates greater student mobility, family transience, and increasing student homelessness. increasing student homelessness.

It is my contention that if Education Reformers really cared about school quality, they’d recognize that schools are indicators of larger urban policy priorities. Schools are building charged with educating observant children who arrive with experiences and awareness that may not prioritize learning content as their first concern. Afterall, what is more fundamental to anyone’s sense of security and normalcy than their right to a secure space to sleep and call “home”? My suspicion is not that allies of the reform movement aren’t aware of this, it’s that they don’t care because all along, it was never really about the kids and their learning in the first place.

The Education Law Center is suing in New Jersey Supreme Court to challenge the negative effects of charter schools on public schools in Newark.

ELC is asking the court to review the fiscal impact and segregating effects of charters on public schools. The bottom line is whether the state can afford to support two different school systems.

The New Jersey Supreme Court has granted a petition filed by Education Law Center (ELC) to review the State Commissioner of Education’s 2016 decision approving an enrollment increase of 8500 students in KIPP, Uncommon and other charter operators’ schools in the Newark Public School (NPS) district.

In accepting In Re Team Academy Charter School, the Supreme Court will now decide several consequential issues raised by the State’s push to rapidly grow charter school enrollments in NPS over the last decade. Under former Governor Chris Christie, Newark charter enrollments grew 320% from 4,559 in 2009, to 19,152 in 2020. NPS payments to charter schools increased from $63 million in 2009, or 7% of the NPS operating budget, to $265 million in 2020, or 26% of the budget.

The legal issues before the NJ Supreme Court in Team Academy implicate the Commissioner’s failure to comply with the Court’s 2000 Palisades Charter ruling imposing an affirmative obligation under the New Jersey Constitution to carefully evaluate the impact of charter school applications in two interrelated areas:

  • The education resources available to NPS students from the loss of funding that will occur from increasing charter school enrollments;
  • The segregation of NPS students by disability, English language proficiency and race.

The Team Academy appeal addresses the obligation of charter authorizers to protect the constitutional rights of public school students when faced with overwhelming and unrefuted evidence that expanding charters will deprive district students of essential education resources and intensify persistent patterns of student segregation in the resident district.           

In 2016, ELC, on behalf of NPS students, submitted detailed evidence to the Commissioner opposing the charter school expansion. ELC’s evidence showed that, if the expansion was approved, NPS would continue to lose funding from its budget, causing further cuts to essential teachers, support staff and programs, including for English language learners (ELL) and students with disabilities. ELC also documented that the expansion would increase the concentration of more costly to educate students with disabilities and ELLs in Newark district schools and worsen the entrenched isolation of Black and Latino students in the already intensely segregated district.

After the Commissioner ignored this evidence and approved the applications, ELC appealed. The Appellate Division upheld the decision, relying on the failure of the NPS superintendent, hired by the State, to object to the expansion. At the time the charter applications were decided by the State, NPS was under State control.

Because NPS students are in the class of plaintiff school children in the landmark Abbott v. Burke school funding litigation, the Supreme Court will also decide whether the Commissioner bears a heightened burden when reviewing charter applications in those districts. Abbott district students remain the subject of continuing Abbott orders to remedy the State’s longstanding violation of their right to a constitutional thorough and efficient education.

Michael Stein of the Pashman Stein Walder Hayden law firm is serving as pro bono co-counsel on this appeal, along with ELC Executive Director David Sciarra, lead counsel for the Abbott v. Burke school children.

Argument before the NJ Supreme Court is expected in the fall.

Press Contact:

Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
skrengel@edlawcenter.org
973-624-1815, x 24


Jersey Jazzman notes that charters in his state are on the horns of a dilemma: on one hand, public school advocates are suing to block charter expansion, because they drain away public school funding: on the other hand, charters want to join a lawsuit that would allow them to share in a settlement intended to provide equity for public schools in impoverished districts. JJ is a very smart guy but he doesn’t seem to understand that what matters most is not consistency but being in the right place when the money spigot is turned on. Charters are public when that’s where the money is; charters are not public when it suits them to avoid mandates.

He writes:

This was a long time coming: the Christie administration happily encouraged the expansion of charter schools without seriously thinking about appropriate oversight, regulation, and funding of the sector. Now the state has to contend with a system that imposes fiscal burdens on school districts that host charter schools, even as those districts have no meaningful say on charter school proliferation.

The fact – which I have validated empirically – is that charter school expansion is not a revenue-neutral policy. As school districts lose students to charters, they are unable to adjust immediately to enrollment declines, because districts have fixed costs like buildings and personnel that can’t be quickly scaled back. 


But charter operators appear to be unconcerned with this reality; repeatedly, they have demanded they get everything they think they are owed, even when school districts are facing serious financial pressures. During Christie’s time, this meant charter budgets weren’t touched
, even as host districts’ were slashed…

As Bruce Baker and Gary Miron pointed out years ago, charter school regulations like New Jersey’s lead to an absurd situation: the public pays for school buildings that many times used to be owned by a school district – in other words, the public – but wind up in private hands. Sometimes those hands are nonprofits aligned with the charter school; sometimes they are for-profit companies, paying off their mortgages with funds the charters receive in per pupil payments from hosting school districts.

In either case, the public is paying for a building that the public will never own. And in most cases, these are buildings that are paid for, at least in part, with local funds, even though the state is the entity that gets to decide whether charters will be granted or renewed.

This lunacy is at the heart of the serious conflicts of interest, lack of transparency, and just generally bad policymaking that surrounds New Jersey’s charter school facilities…

The legal status of charter schools has always been open to debate, but it’s clear at this point that they are not government actors. As such, they can claim immunity from oversight regulations that other governmental entities, such as school boards, must abide by. Why, then, should the taxpayers simply turn over revenues for charter facilities when they won’t even know who, if anyone, is profiting off of this system?

There are a lot of aspects of charter school policy we can debate, but this one if clear: If the public pays for a school building — including a charter school building — the public should own the building. If New Jersey’s charter schools want more funding for their facilities, the price to be paid is that those facilities stay in public hands, with public oversight and complete transparency.

If you think I’m wrong, I’d love to hear your argument. But it seems clear to me that New Jersey’s charter schools can’t have it both ways: if you want public funding, you can’t have privately owned buildings.

The Education Law Center is suing to block former Governor Chris Christie’s 2016 decision to expand charters in Newark:

 

February 11, 2020
NJ SUPREME COURT TO REVIEW STATE COMMISSIONER’S DECISION TO DRAMATICALLY EXPAND CHARTER SCHOOLS IN NEWARK
The New Jersey Supreme Court has granted a petition filed by Education Law Center (ELC) to review the State Commissioner of Education’s 2016 decision approving an enrollment increase of 8500 students in KIPP, Uncommon and other charter operators’ schools in the Newark Public School (NPS) district.
In accepting In Re Team Academy Charter School, the Supreme Court will now decide several consequential issues raised by the State’s push to rapidly grow charter school enrollments in NPS over the last decade. Under former Governor Chris Christie, Newark charter enrollments grew 320% from 4,559 in 2009, to 19,152 in 2020. NPS payments to charter schools increased from $63 million in 2009, or 7% of the NPS operating budget, to $265 million in 2020, or 26% of the budget.
The legal issues before the NJ Supreme Court in Team Academy implicate the Commissioner’s failure to comply with the Court’s 2000 Palisades Charter ruling imposing an affirmative obligation under the New Jersey Constitution to carefully evaluate the impact of charter school applications in two interrelated areas:
  • The education resources available to NPS students from the loss of funding that will occur from increasing charter school enrollments;
  • The segregation of NPS students by disability, English language proficiency and race.
The Team Academy appeal addresses the obligation of charter authorizers to protect the constitutional rights of public school students when faced with overwhelming and unrefuted evidence that expanding charters will deprive district students of essential education resources and intensify persistent patterns of student segregation in the resident district.
In 2016, ELC, on behalf of NPS students, submitted detailed evidence to the Commissioner opposing the charter school expansion. ELC’s evidence showed that, if the expansion was approved, NPS would continue to lose funding from its budget, causing further cuts to essential teachers, support staff and programs, including for English language learners (ELL) and students with disabilities. ELC also documented that the expansion would increase the concentration of more costly to educate students with disabilities and ELLs in Newark district schools and worsen the entrenched isolation of Black and Latino students in the already intensely segregated district.
After the Commissioner ignored this evidence and approved the applications, ELC appealed. The Appellate Division upheld the decision, relying on the failure of the NPS superintendent, hired by the State, to object to the expansion. At the time the charter applications were decided by the State, NPS was under State control.
Because NPS students are in the class of plaintiff school children in the landmark Abbott v. Burke school funding litigation, the Supreme Court will also decide whether the Commissioner bears a heightened burden when reviewing charter applications in those districts. Abbott district students remain the subject of continuing Abbott orders to remedy the State’s longstanding violation of their right to a constitutional thorough and efficient education.
Michael Stein of the Pashman Stein Walder Hayden law firm is serving as pro bono co-counsel on this appeal, along with ELC Executive Director David Sciarra, lead counsel for the Abbott v. Burke school children.
Argument before the NJ Supreme Court is expected in the fall.
Press Contact:
Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
Education Law Center

The Education Law Center is one of the nation’s pre-eminent civil rights organizations committed to improving equality of educational opportunity. It points out in the following release that the charter schools have never signed the legally required contracts to participate in court-ordered universal pre-school programs in the state’s poorest districts, the “Abbott Districts.”

 

December 9, 2019
ELC CALLS FOR END TO SEPARATE CHARTER SCHOOL PRE-K PROGRAMS IN ABBOTT DISTRICTS
Education Law Center is calling for the NJ Department of Education (NJDOE) to immediately end the unauthorized practice of allowing charter schools in poor urban Abbott districts to operate separate preschool programs outside the districts’ universal “Abbott Preschool Program.”
The administration of former Governor Chris Christie allowed 10 charter schools in five Abbott districts to operate their own preschool programs, despite not having a contract from the districts to participate in the districts’ universal program, as required by the landmark Abbott v. Burke rulings. In 2019-20, the 10 charter preschool programs enrolled 630 three- and four-year-olds, funded by over $8 million in state preschool aid.
ELC’s December 2019 letter to the NJDOE emphasizes that, under the NJ Supreme Court’s detailed Abbott preschool mandates, only Abbott districts are authorized to offer high quality preschool to all resident three- and four-year-olds through an NJDOE-approved universal enrollment program. While community providers and Head Start are eligible to operate preschool classrooms in Abbott districts, they can only do so under a contract with the districts. The district contract requires strict adherence to teacher quality, class size, and other Abbott preschool standards, as well as enrollment through the district’s universal outreach and recruitment process.
As the Supreme Court has made clear, these requirements are essential elements of the constitutional obligation imposed on Abbott districts to provide high quality preschool to all eligible three- and four-year old children residing in their communities. The districts are mandated to enroll at least 90 percent of the universe of those children. The requirement for community-based providers to operate only under district contracts ensures that only those providers capable of and willing to deliver high quality preschool through district coordination, support and supervision, can participate in the Abbott program.
The NJDOE’s decision to allow the 10 charter schools to operate separate preschool programs not only violates the Abbott rulings and the agency’s own regulations, but also undermines the cornerstone of the nationally-recognized success of the Abbott Preschool Program: a district-supervised, mixed delivery system of early education unifying community-based providers and district classrooms under a common set of high quality standards, backed by adequate funding. This well-established legal and policy framework does not permit any entity, including charter schools, to provide preschool wholly outside of the district-run, universal Abbott program.
“The NJDOE has no authority to permit a charter school to run a parallel preschool program that competes with the district’s Abbott program for students and funding,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director and lead counsel in the Abbott litigation. “Charter schools in Abbott districts cannot operate preschool classrooms unless they enter into a contract with the district, as is required of every community-based provider and Head Start program participating in Abbott preschool.”
In 2019-20, the following charter schools are providing preschool without obtaining the legally required contract to participate in the Abbott district program:
In addition to calling for an end to the unauthorized practice of allowing charter schools to operate their own preschool programs, ELC is also demanding the NJDOE immediately notify the 10 charter schools that to continue to provide preschool in the 2020-21 school year, they must secure a contract with their district to participate in the district-wide Abbott preschool program.
Press Contact:
Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
Education Law Center
60 Park Place, Suite 300
Newark, NJ 07102
973-624-1815, ext. 24

New Jersey is a corrupt state, whose Democratic leadership controls the state and patronage. The Democratic machine worked happily with Republican Governor Chris Christie.

The Working Families Party is fighting to upend the Democratic establishment, whose titular head is boss George Norcross, who happens to be a member of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club and the Democratic National Committee.

One WFP member, Sue Altman, was recently arrested and forcibly removed from a public hearing.

Altman previously lived in New York, where she was a founding member of NYSAPE, the group that fights high-stakes testing.

The confrontation was brief but explosive, and it laid bare the deepening fault lines within the Democratic Party in one of America’s bluest states.

New Jersey state troopers singled out Sue Altman, the leader of the left-leaning Working Families Alliance, grabbed her by the arms and forcibly removed her from a standing-room-only State Senate hearing on corporate tax breaks.

She was led past her main political rival, George E. Norcross III, a Democratic power broker who was at the hearing to testify in support of an $11 billion economic incentive program that Ms. Altman had criticized harshly and that is the subject of state investigations and subpoenas.

The imagery and its aftermath have roiled Trenton, exposing a generational and philosophical rift between progressive and mainstream Democrats that is mirrored nationwide…

Images of the clash were shared widely on social media — including by Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a Democratic presidential candidate — amplifying tensions between the Democratic factions that control the state government: lawmakers aligned with the progressive first-term governor, Philip D. Murphy, and those, including the powerful State Senate president, who are linked to Mr. Norcross…

Her outspokenness about corporate tax breaks and her decision to live in Camden, a city seen as the Norcross family’s inviolable power base, made her a ready target for opponents long before the contentious Senate hearing.

Ms. Altman regularly spars with the powers-that-be on Twitter and seems to revel in the role of outside agitator. Barely a week into her job as the alliance’s director, she participated in a demonstration where protesters stood near an inflatable pig handing out fake million-dollar bills stamped with Mr. Norcross’s face.

She credits her years on the basketball court with making her comfortable in the political scrum. After leading her college team at Columbia University in scoring, she played professionally in Ireland and Germany. She went on to teach and coach at Blair Academy before studying at Oxford, where she also played basketball.

“You’re going to get booed,” she said. “You still have to make your foul shots.”

She is flirting with the possibility of making a primary run against Donald Norcross. “I haven’t ruled it out,” she said, despite taking no concrete steps toward a campaign…“She doesn’t have to stay here,” said Ronsha Dickerson, 42, an African-American mother of six who works for an organization that has called for a moratorium on new charter schools in Camden. “But she’s chosen this space to really be committed to making change.”

 

 

Cory Booker was recently interviewed by the Washington Post, and he was asked about his past support for vouchers and his friendship with Betsy DeVos. 

He insisted that he turned against vouchers in 2006, and he barely remembered any connection to DeVos. When someone asked if he had flown to Michigan in 2000 at the request of Dick and Betsy DeVos to support their voucher referendum, he at first denied it, then when shown a tape, he said he didn’t remember it.

He opposed DeVos’ nomination to be Secretary of Education in 2017.

DeVos’s allies are stunned by what they call his turnabout. They view Booker’s effort to distance himself from her and her agenda as a betrayal. 

Now that it is politically inconvenient, he has distanced himself from the issue and those who helped launch his political career,” said William E. Oberndorf, who was chairman of the American Education Reform Council when DeVos and Booker were on the board. “Cory once told me that his father used to say to him, ‘Never forget the girl who brought you to the dance.’ I can only conclude that Cory not only forgot one of the girls who brought him to the dance, he missed his . . . moment to stand up for an issue he always said he believed in.” 

Booker’s advocacy for vouchers won him the financial support of conservative Republicans who were delighted to see a black Democratic Mayor supporting their cause.

Booker’s political career took off as a parade of wealthy philanthropists, hedge fund managers and others who supported DeVos’s “school choice” viewpoint poured money into his campaigns and pet projects. 

In 2000, with their voucher referendum on the ballot, the DeVos family invited Booker to debate the legislative director of the ACLU. She kept a tape of the debate and shared it with the Post. The voucher proposal went down to a crushing defeat by 3-1.

In September 2000, Booker delivered a blistering pro-voucher speech to the Manhattan Institute, a conservative policy group. 

Booker’s 2006 race for mayor of Newark won the support of many conservative Republicans. He proposed tuition tax credits (a form of voucher) and went all-in for charters.

When he ran for the Senate in 2014 in a special election, he was helped by Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, who held a fundraiser for him.

As recently as May 2016, Booker appeared again before the group that DeVos chaired, the American Federation for Children. After DeVos delivered a speech defending herself against attacks from Democrats, Oberndorf warmly introduced Booker, praising his commitment to school choice.

Booker spoke proudly about the growing number of students in Newark’s charter schools, saying, “This mission of this organization is the mission of our nation. . . . I have been involved with this organization for 10 years and I have seen the sacred honor of those here.” 

As Booker finished his speech, the audience gave him a standing ovation. To DeVos and her allies, it seemed that Booker was still firmly in the fold, according to Oberndorf. 

But a year later, he opposed DeVos’ nomination.

Booker’s vote shattered his career-long alliance with DeVos and stunned her supporters. 

“Cory gained a great deal of political support thanks to his association with Betsy and other supporters,” said Mitchell, the president of the American Education Reform Council when Booker and DeVos were board members. “His abandonment of school choice and of Betsy makes it clear that his professed commitment to the issue and his friendship with her were fueled by political ambition, not principle.” 

Betsy helped to fund his political career. But it was no longer convenient to be her friend.