Sadly, despite positives aspects of a proposed plan for Camden education, last night’s Camden Board of Education meeting was a textbook case of false choice, manufactured crisis, and long-term exploitation. The new Superintendent touted the participation component of his new plan (even while residents were locked outside because of the unfortunate decision not to move the venue), and promised school repairs. He also readily acknowledged that the easiest funding sources for those repairs was from the Urban Hope Act, and not the Schools Development Authority (SDA). Such is the nature of false choice; that parents and residents must chose between crumbling district schools and shiny charter schools is a manufactured crisis caused by the refusal to fund repairs of district buildings.

There are a lot of things to like in the plan put forth by Superintendent Rouhanifard. Universal Pre-K would be wonderful, as are dinner programs, and school repairs. I often talk about the importance (and non-partisan) nature of those types of micro-urban reforms. But a former Board of Education member pointed out something to me Monday that came up again at the Board of Education meeting. 

He told me, “look for the clues.” He pointed to the plan where it said that school repair funding would either come from the Schools Development Authority (SDA) or the Urban Hope Act. The implication was that the school repairs promise was a way to gain support for charter schools coming through the Urban Hope Act legislation.

Superintendent Rouhanifard pointed to the same thing, mentioning that the SDA hadn’t broken ground on a new school in 4 years, and that the Urban Hope Act came with funding to do so. Therefore, the two new schools would be charters. The same is likely true for three schools promised repairs.

Now, I understand a pragmatist saying – this is where the money is, we need to repair these schools. But let’s not give the State too much credit. Starving a community of funds to adequately maintain their school buildings, then tying such funding to an ideological movement towards charters, is not helping communities. It’s exploiting them. 

I don’t know where that leaves Camden residents (or what they should choose given such frustrating choices). I do know that this type of false choice disenfranchises them. There can be all the public meetings in the world, but if the decisions are stacked by legislation (district schools and no repairs, or charters in new or refurbished buildings), do they really have choice? One would think the architects of policies expounding on the benefits of school choice would have a little more insight into the nature of choosing.

And that is what is sad about this current plan. It had the potential to focus on things that the community could rally around; universal pre-K, school repairs, school dinners, safe corridors. Instead, those (positive) steps are being used to sweeten a bitter pill; the announcement of school takeovers that comes next week and will turn Camden into Newark into New Orleans.

Parents are being given a devil of a choice: a status quo in which they are punished by state legislation, or money that is linked to the erasing of their history and community.

Those who manufactured a crisis should not get credit for fixing it.

Update (2/19/14): 

For those visiting via Diane Ravitch, welcome! We need all the sunshine and transparency we can get here in Camden. 

Here’s a few other posts worth checking out: 

Local Teacher and Union Rep, Keith Benson

Former Board of Ed rep arguing that This Was All Planned

My critique of a charter hiring before traditional schools know their fate.

Enjoy, and don’t hesitate to comment or send guest posts.

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