LET’S TAKE A LONG, HARD, FACTUAL LOOK AT HOW PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOLS ACTUALLY IMPACT SCHOOL DISTRICTS

It is hard to discount or dismiss the strong demand for public school choice across the city of Newark.

Tens of thousands of parents in our City apply each year with the hope that their child can attend a public charter school. The reasons are obvious. Our public school buildings are crumbling before our children’s very eyes. Meanwhile, an undeniable renaissance and revitalization is taking place in our city, with Newark public charters actually investing hundreds of millions of dollars to improve our neighborhoods, buildings and abandoned lots. Furthermore, actual charter parents and even public school teachers are now taking public stands, explaining the academic benefits to other Newark parents and community members.

And of course, let’s not discount the most important reason for this demand – which a child who attends a public charter school is far – I mean really far – more likely to attend and graduate from college.

Nevertheless, to counter this high demand, there are still some organizations that have attempted to build a narrative, which claims that pubic charter schools are somehow making a negative financial impact on district schools.

For example, take a look at Newark Teachers Union (NTU) President John M. Abeigon, who, along with his buddies, unsuccessfully attempted to bully Newark into creating a moratorium on the public charter schools. In one of his many bizarre statements, he proclaimed, “It’s a kaChing/kaChing! for (Charters) at the expense of traditional public schools.”

The New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) has also been a soldier in this Wag the Dog war against public charters, claiming “(Charter Schools) represent a huge transfer of resources and students from our public education system.”

Additionally, the NJEA funded Education Law Center (ELC), has added to the anti-charter cries, repeatedly stating that charter school expansion has been a significant reason for district school budget issues: “NPS has been forced to enact draconian cuts to balance the district budget over the last three years…this further charter growth will not only continue but will worsen the NPS budget crisis.”

Those of us at The Newark Report would like to break this contention down for inspection – and do it fairly and with facts.

Let’s start by taking one of the most important points off the table – the credibility of those making the claim.

Let’s pretend that organizations like the NTU, NJEA, and ELC actually do not have a personal financial benefit for keeping the status quo in place.

Let’s assume the best in each of these three organizations.

Let’s assume the New Jersey Trifecta is not waging a war against parents, students, and high quality school for their own self-preservation.

Let’s not make assumption…as always, let us look at the facts…

We begin by going to the smartest person I know, my childhood friend Wiley, who many of you who read The Newark Report already know.

Like many of us, Wiley was born and raised in the West Ward of Newark. He attended Alexander Street School and graduated from Arts High School.

Wiley made an important distinction to this supposed argument regarding the financial impact of charters:

“Public charter schools have been around Newark for about ten years. Newark has not only failed to serve our children for decades and generations, but specifically, the economics of our school system has very much been an issue long before we had public school options.

Charter schools have nothing to do with it.

The reason our district school system is in a financial crisis is that exact same issue we saw decades ago – the money we get from taxes and Trenton does not go to our classrooms. It never has. It’s like that now, and it was like that decades ago. Instead of getting money to our kids, we are spending the money to support unneeded bureaucracy, with only a fraction of the money actually ending up in our classrooms.”

If that historic perspective is not good enough, let’s look at our actual budget for this year. In April 2016, Politico reported that “the state has allocated $829 million to Newark Public Schools for the coming academic year — an increase of about $26 million,” making it obvious that more money is being invested into district schools, not less.

Finally, let’s take a look at another key fact – basic logic…

If a Newark parent chooses to leave the district school system and send them to a Newark public charter school, it’s obvious that NPS no longer is responsible for spending school funds on this student. So if the district loses a student that is one less person they have to spend money on. This means costs, as well as student to teacher ratios, should actually go down when a parent or guardian chooses to have their child attend a public charter school in Newark.

Yet, even though the child is no longer in the district school, some of the funds that were allocated to that Newark student’s education, actually stay in the pockets of NPS – and DOES NOT travel with the student to the public charter school. In a report detailing New Jersey’s school funding, in 2011, public charter schools throughout the state received 19.3 percent less funding than district schools, and in Newark alone, charter schools received 41.0 percent less funding than the city’s district, which was a difference of $11,602 per student.

These actual FACTS, show the exact opposite of what the New Jersey Trifecta (NTU, NJEA, and ELC) are claiming.

According to an 8-year impact report released by the Newark Charter School Fund earlier this year, “a 2015 study by the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) identified Newark as a national “outlier” in school performance. Specifically, more than 86 percent of Newark charter school students are enrolled in schools considered to be “beating the odds” in math, and 76 percent are enrolled in schools considered to be “beating the odds” in reading,” compared to districts with similar demographics throughout the state of New Jersey.

It’s clear that the problem, regarding school funding, lies within management of funds, rather than the amount of actual funds that are available to schools.

Even with significantly fewer funds available to Newark’s public charter schools, which are serving a similar demographic of students as Newark public schools, student performance levels are significantly higher in Newark’s charter schools, and charters have a higher cost-effectiveness and return on investment.

After decades of abuse, public school choice has become a valuable tool parents have to help ensure that their children receive a high quality education.

Therefore, instead of creating self-serving false blame against public charter schools, its time for the New Jersey Trifecta (NTU, NJEA, and ELC) to look for ways that all school leaders and educators, both public and charter schools, can collaborate on effective instructional and operational strategies to achieve the best possible outcomes for all Newark students.

Narratives are important. And as we have all seen, these narratives can be spun to serve powerful people, especially when it comes to the issue of education. These powerful people, who have a personal interest in protecting the status quo, have been finding scapegoats for.

Public charter schools are just the latest in the long line of blame, smoke and mirror…and more of the same.

If we are going to serve our kids better, we must have an honest dialogue.