The news finally broke that Mastery is adding a new school in Cramer Hill. Allison Steele does a nice job of laying out multiple sides of the issue, quoting parents happy with the charter school product, and quoting me on the issue of future school closures and democratic rights. But the article also includes a quote from the superintendent about how “Camden students are long overdue for 21st-century learning environments.” I wanted to take a moment to point out the difference between new schools and new buildings, and how Camden residents are being sold the first, disguised as the second. 

As I’ve written before, new buildings are exceptionally popular among Camden residents. These families face crumbling infrastructure. I don’t doubt the district when it says a key priority in its “listening tour” was the need for upgraded facilities. 

What’s dishonest is the false choice set up by the Urban Hope Act about how to get updated facilities. Normally that process depends on the SDA. But the SDA rarely builds new buildings, and when Gov. Christie was first elected he delayed $170 million in repairs and upgrades that had been promised to Camden. $50 million of those dollars are now promised to Camden High, but by and large, Camden facilities have been ignored by the state agency that maintains them. 

At the same time, the Urban Hope Act included an additional 5% funding per student (95% of the funding for each student now follows them to a Renaissance school) so that Renaissance schools can build new facilities. As David Sciarra of the Ed Law Center often points out, that number comes off the top of the budget. This year, even schools with increased enrollment in the district system saw budgets cut. 

So, with one hand, the state refuses to invest in facilities for the district system. With the other hand, it provides its chosen schools with funding for new facilities.

That’s how parents end up with a devil of a choice. They can choose their neighborhood school, which has been denied needed facility upgrades. Or they can go with a “No Excuses” school like Mastery, which is all the rage at the state level, and which values “submission, obedience and self-control.” 

It’s submission and new facilities, or neighborhood schools and crumbling facilities. This is what choice looks like up close.


  • Where is the “choice”, if there really is no choice? CCSD is going to be closing more neighborhood schools, “due to low enrollment” and while opening new charter schools simultaneously, thereby “providing Camden families with more high-quality options” (a phrase often repeated, yet NEVER challenged). Reality is, if I want to send my child to a public school in the neighborhood, their are few options left anymore; and there will be even less as this destructive process trudges to completion.

    Despite how much I disagree with with nearly all of the claims on which charters are hinged, and no matter how much I disagree with charters as a matter of principal, what is most frustrating and inexcusable is that Camden residents have had ZERO say in something this consequential. Residents’ voices were ensured to be excluded at every measure, every turn. THIS IS THE ONLY CITY IN THE


    Camden residents never had a chance to resist or speak out. HOW CAN ANYONE WHO CLAIMS TO CARE ABOUT EQUAL RIGHTS, JUSTICE, FAIRNESS, DEMOCRACY, OR EQUITY JUSTIFY THE ACTIONS OF ANYONE WHO HAD ANYTHING TO DO WITH THIS? If residents’ voices and concerns were considered, through elections (and only democratic elections), and they voted for this current Charter Invasion, I would not like it personally, but I could accept it much much easier. Residents have the right to govern the communities in which they live; but the Camden people have been treated is unjustifaiable.

    What is largely left unsaid, is that these Renaissance schools are all but ensured enrollment due to the “phasing out” and closure of public schools – thereby forcing kids into charters. Where is the “choice”?

    It won’t be long before residents are left to pick up the pieces left by those who forced these actions on to us. Everyone who had a hand in these Renaissance Schools will be long gone within even 5 years on to “greener pastures” never to deal with the consequences we residents and our children will have to endure.

    This is an issue of racism, classism, political cronyism, predatory neoliberalism, and union-busting behind the thin veil of “providing (forcing) more high quality (says who) ‘options’ (NOT public) for Camden families.

    This “choice” and “options” narrative put forth by many would be utterly laughable, if it were not so sad.

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