Murphy Gives A Big Wet Kiss to NJEA and a Punch to the Gut for Camden Families as He Vetoes a Student-Centered Bill.

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Last week Governor Phil Murphy “conditionally” vetoed a bill that would have allowed the most popular and high-achieving public schools in Camden to add seats, expanded parents’ public school options, and stabilized the universal enrollment system called Camden Enrollment.

He did this at the bidding of NJEA, which celebrated by issuing a press release lauding Murphy’s dedication to “truly public schools” that are run “not for the benefit of outside corporate management companies.” Camden teacher union president Keith Benson added that he appreciates Murphy’s veto of “these toxic bills.”

I wrote about Bill S-2722/A-4181 back in June (see here), which easily passed in the State Legislature. Why? Because it’s no secret that Camden’s renaissance schools, hybrids of charters and districts and distinctly not run “for the benefit of outside management companies,” are helping students achieve academic success at higher rates than traditional schools. (The traditional district schools are improving, albeit more slowly.) Here are some stats (last year’s since the new PARCC scores for individual schools haven’t been released yet, although statewide student proficiency was up in both reading and math):

  • Over the past three years, across district and renaissance Schools, citywide reading proficiency has nearly tripled and math proficiency has doubled.
  • The dropout rate has been nearly cut in half, declining from 21% in 2012 to 11% in 2017.
  • There has been a 17-point rise in the district’s graduation rate – up from 49% in 2012 to 66% in 2017.
  • Academic performance has been particularly strong at renaissance schools. In school year 16-17, 27.3 percent of renaissance school students were proficient in ELA and 26.1 percent were proficient in math in SY 16-17, compared to 12.2 percent and 8.8 percent of district students, respectively.
  • Renaissance schools serve a similarly needy student population as the district. In fact, renaissance schools serve a higher percentage of students receiving special education services than the district – 18.0% versus 15.8%, respectively.

But NJEA and Benson don’t care about student growth. They care about market share. Thus, they lobby against any system that empowers parents to make public school choices outside of the traditional district sector.

Gov. Murphy explains part of the reason for his veto as this:

This bill would make significant revisions to the Urban Hope Act by requiring a renaissance school district to establish a common enrollment system and expanding the definition of an urban campus area.  I am concerned about the impact these changes may have on the students and schools in Camden’s district schools, particularly before an independent review of the renaissance school program is complete.

Maybe he should read the report issued today by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools– an “independent review,” if you will — on universal enrollment systems in Denver, New Orleans, Louisiana, D.C., Indianapolis, Newark,and, serendipitously, Camden. It’s called “Lessons Learned From Around the Country: Universal Enrollment.”

The section on Camden Enrollment notes that “families only need to submit an application if they don’t want to attend their assigned neighborhood school. In that application, parents and students can rank up to 8 different schools.” The report notes the “extensive community feedback” used to create the system, the elimination of “unnecessary complexity” in the enrollment process (there used to be 17 different applications for charter schools with different deadlines for each), a sibling preference, a neighborhood preference, enrollment hotlines, school fairs, enrollment centers, and “targeted outreach” to increase awareness and “level the playing field.”

The report quotes a member of the family outreach team, Shirley Irizarry, who told researchers that her daughter convinced her “to pursue another school” and that Camden Enrollment allows “some students to take ownership of their own education plans and evaluate their own options and needs.” (Indeed, the recent EducationNext poll shows support for charter schools is growing across the country.)

But, sure, let’s veto the bill.

Gov. Murphy ran as an advocate for the oppressed, for the poor, for the disenfranchised,  an antidote to Chris Christie who had come to represent Trump’s apologist and consigliere.

But from all appearances Murphy now serves as the errand boy for special interests as he decimates the teacher evaluation system by lowering the impact of student outcomes from 30 percent to 5 percent (Star-Ledger: “top lawmakers in his own party are accusing him repaying the union with a wet kiss of a political favor”); whittles away at meaningful assessments; resists Senate President Steve Sweeney’s numerate plan to solve NJ’s pension and benefits crisis; and makes unaffordable state aid promises. 

Sure, NJEA leaders lap it up. (Not sure which is the lapdog and which is the lap here.) But families in Camden are voting with their feet: right now 38 percent of Camden’s public school students choose to attend renaissance schools and traditional charters. 

The Governor had a choice to make: special interests that fund his campaign(s) or Camden families. He made his choice. It’s a long way til 2021 but soon New Jerseyans will get to make a choice as well. Maybe he should look beyond NJEA’s self-serving agenda.


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