In today’s NJ Spotlight, Ed. Comm. Chris Cerf tries to corral the anti-charter school sentiment in NJ, much of it propagated by proponents of the status quo. (In a related piece, John Mooney looks closely at the history of NJEA’s stance towards these autonomous public schools, far more complex than its current declaration that “public charter schools are a valuable addition to New Jersey’s public education system.”)
Cerf lays down the facts:
Charter schools, although not part of the local district, are public schools, with public school students and public school teachers, funded with public dollars. Like district-run public schools, they are open to all students and, unlike many magnet and vocational schools, they are legally prohibited from using admissions criteria. Charter schools receive additional autonomy from state and district regulations in exchange for a higher degree of accountability, meaning they can be closed by the state at any time if they fail to get results for children or are poorly managed.
He also attempts to address some of contrived arguments against charters. (For example, see Save Our Schools-NJ and Education Law Center, which base their contempt of school choice on potential diversions of funding from traditional district schools. SOS-NJ fears the loss of revenue from the popularity of boutique charter schools in wealthy suburban communities; ELC, on the other hand, fears that the growth of charter schools in poor communities will allow the thousands of kids on waiting lists to exercise school choice and, thus, deprive traditional districts of Abbott funding despite decades of student stagnation.)
Opponents of charter schools have made careers out of maligning them. They claim that charter schools are an effort to privatize public education. They are not — charter schools are public schools. Opponents claim that charter schools are “undemocratic” because citizens do not vote to open them. In fact, charter schools are the most democratic schools we have because if parents do not choose to enroll their child in a charter school, that school will close.
Conspicuously absent from Cerf’s piece is any mention of online charter schools, a current target of controversy and a shakier proposition. However, he clearly and dispassionately disputes some of the political propaganda that may account for mystifying choices made by, say, the Newark Advisory Board, which voted down a proposal to lease out empty district buildings to successful charter operators for lease payments that would top $500,000 per year. (Yet people wonder why Newark is still under state control! Anyway, Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson overruled the Board. See here for details.)
Will Cerf’s attempt to clarify basic facts about charter schools have an impact on perception? I suppose it’s worth a try. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan put it, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts.”