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Op-Ed: Open Letter to Commissioner Hespe About Newark’s Charter Schools

Reject calls for a moratorium on charter growth and instead focus on ways to expand Newark families’ access to high-quality education options

mashea ashton op-ed
Mashea Ashton

On behalf of educators, parents, and stakeholders who long to see students across Newark equipped with the knowledge, skills, and opportunities they need to succeed, we urge you to support the city’s thriving public charter-school sector -- one of the best in the country -- and work to ensure more families have access to the high-quality education it provides.

Some in Newark have cast the blame for the school system’s budget challenges on charter schools. This argument is false because charter schools are public schools. And though they provide students in Newark with access to a high-quality, tuition-free public education and are held to the same standards as traditional public schools, charters in fact receive less funding per pupil than traditional public schools, with no public funding for facilities.

The truth is that Newark families are clamoring for more access to charter schools, not less. For the 2015-2016 school year, 42 percent of all families in Newark chose charter schools first in the Newark enrollment system. Thousands of students and their families have found hope in charter schools, and reversing course now would shut the door on thousands more who want the same thing.

Why is there such a high demand? Because Newark boasts some of the highest-quality charter schools in the country. Stanford University’s 2015 national CREDO study found that Newark’s charters ranked second in both reading and math average-annual learning gains. Additionally, Robert Treat Academy Charter School has achieved Reward Status by the state Department of Education for four consecutive years in recognition of its high performance.

At Uncommon School’s North Star Academy, 99 percent of graduates enrolled in college this fall, and 92 percent of Newark KIPP high-school graduates matriculated at colleges in 2015. At People’s Prep, an independent charter high school in Newark, 90 percent of graduating seniors enrolled in college, 95 percent of whom are first-generation college students. That kind of opportunity is virtually unprecedented in our city, and we should be doing everything we can to ensure more students have access to it.

Eight charter schools, including independents such as Marion P. Thomas Charter School, recently applied for permission to increase the number of students they serve. Approving those requests would give thousands of families across Newark access to the unique opportunities that public charter schools provide.

Our public charter schools do not hurt district schools. Charter schools and traditional district schools should be working together to implement the educational best practices that serve our students and families most effectively. Collaboration, not combativeness, will strengthen our education system for all kids.

The Newark City Council agrees that limiting the growth of high-quality public charter schools is not the answer to fixing Newark Public Schools. By a 7-2 vote, it approved a resolution opposing Assembly bill 4351 on May 12, 2015 -- the bill called for a three-year moratorium on the expansion of existing public charter schools.

We urge you to reject calls for a moratorium on charter growth and instead focus on ways to expand Newark families’ access to high-quality education options.

Black Alliance for Education Options
Democrats for Education Reform
Great Oaks Charter School
JerseyCAN
KIPP New Jersey
Lady Liberty Academy Charter School
Marion P. Thomas Charter School
Merit Preparatory Charter School
Newark Charter School Fund
Newark Educators’ Community Charter School
Newark Legacy Charter School
Newark Preparatory Charter School
New Jersey Charter School Association
North Star Academy Charter School
Parent Coalition For Excellent Education
People’s Preparatory Charter School
Philips’s Academy Charter School
Robert Treat Academy Charter School
Roseville Community Charter School
University Heights Charter School

Mashea Ashton is the outgoing CEO of the Newark Charter School Fund.

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