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Democratic Assemblyman Starts to Leave His Mark on Education Policies

Singleton releases package of three bills, working on revision of 1995 Charter School Law

A new Democratic legislator is starting to find his voice on education policy and politics, including charter schools.
Singleton releases package of three bills, working on revision of 1995 Charter School Law

Last week, state Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-Burlington) announced a package of three bills on some hot issues in education, ranging from new accountability rules for teachers colleges to a new system for tracking student progress in schools.

Such announcements of bill packages are not terribly uncommon, especially during election season. Singleton is pretty prolific lawmaker, too, listed as a primary sponsor on nearly 300 bills this session.

But in office for just two years, Singleton’s biggest foray into education issues may be a bill that he is crafting to overhaul the 1995 charter school law. It would permit colleges and universities to serve as “authorizers,” reviewing and approving new charters. It would also represent the first use of public funds for charter schools..

The bill, yet to be introduced but circulating among various stakeholder groups, would potentially compete with another charter bill that has been filed by state Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan Jr. (D-Middlesex), chairman of the Assembly’s education committee.

Singleton serves on the education committee and said on Friday that he has no intention of countering his chairman on the ever-contentious issues of charter schools. He said the bill may not ever be filed, but added he hopes at least some of his ideas can be part of any new legislation.

“I’m a firm believe that there is no monopoly of good ideas,” Singleton said in an interview. “Certainly, Assemblyman Diegnan is not fearful of good ideas, and so much of good policy lately has come out of the compromises of different perspectives.”

Some of those differences may prove difficult to bridge. Diegnan has proposed that local districts have final say on whether a charter is approved inside their borders. Singleton’s current draft of the legislation would allow for a public hearing, but no final vote.

“There absolutely should be local say, and I feel strongly about holding a public hearing,” Singleton said. “But a local vote, it would only be less likely to have more charter schools, not more likely.”

Singleton would also open up the use of public funds and loan programs to help cover charter schools’ construction and renovation costs, something that has been on the movement’s wish list since its beginning.

While seen as more in the school reform camp, Singleton’s other new bills cross the political spectrum.

Singleton’s teacher preparation bill, for example, would place extensive new reporting requirements on teachers colleges, similar to what the Christie administration has tentatively proposed.

In another bill, he has proposed a system called the Flexible Pathways that would break from the common required testing of students from elementary through high schools that is being pressed by not only Gov. Chris Christie but also dozens of other states.

Taking an idea from previous administrations that wasn’t much embraced by schools, Singleton’s bill would call for every student to have “personalized learning plans” that would provide them options for gaining the necessary requirements to graduate.

“In taking to a myriad of teachers and educators, we are teaching kids to be test-takers and not to be those who are real learners,” Singleton said. “I think there is a way to balance that out, but I don’t think we’ve struck that.”

How far any of these bills go is uncertain, and with the gubernatorial and legislative elections in full swing -- including Singleton’s own re-election bid -- little action is likely until after November 5.

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