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Expanded Urban Hope Act Set to Come Before State Legislature Today

Reworked legislation opens way for large networks of charter schools in Camden

sweeney lite
Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester)

Changes to the Urban Hope Act are back on the agenda for the state Legislature, with the state Senate poised today to vote on an extension of the act to further open the way for large charter school networks in Camden.

In its first voting session since the summer, the Senate has posted for today a bill that would extend the Urban Hope Act for another year and allow for greater flexibility in programs approved for Camden.

The bill had already passed the Legislature this spring, but Gov. Chris Christie issued a conditional veto that removed some concessions to unions. These included an early-retirement incentive for Camden teachers who could potentially be laid off in the district’s downsizing.

State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said in the wake of the conditional veto that he would be willing to vote on the bill without the union concessions, claiming the extension of the act was the most important consideration.

‘“This legislation is of vital importance to the students of Camden and promises new, innovative solutions critical to ensuring a better education for families long deprived of high-quality schools,” Sweeney said in August.

“I am disappointed with the governor’s conditional veto, but I am committed to moving the bill forward.”

But the Senate’ vote is not happening without a fight, since local and state activists have implored the state Senate not to act without further review.

The Education Law Center in Newark and the Save Our Schools NJ coalition, a grassroots group, yesterday issued a press release saying they have asked the Senate to withhold approval of the new bill, saying it’s a threat to the district’s schools. The group has also supported legal challenges to the state-run Camden schools’ implementation of the new act.

Three large networks in the district under the new law would be permitted to open more than a dozen schools in the next several years that would serve at least a third of the city’s school-aged children.

“If the legislature allows this undemocratic transfer of Camden public education to private control, district schools will be forced to close, and the education of Camden schoolchildren and the oversight of hundreds of millions of our tax dollars will be in the hands of entities that are unaccountable to New Jersey families and taxpayers,” said Susan Cauldwell, SOS NJ’s executive director, in a statement. “The people of New Jersey deserve more transparency and accountability from their elected officials, especially when our children’s futures are at stake,” she said.

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