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.