Title: Chief executive officer, New Jersey Charter Schools Association
Why he matters: Gov. Chris Christie has put charter schools at the center of his education reform agenda, and it will be Perez and other leaders in the movement to promote and lobby the schools’ interests, whether in line with the governor’s or not. Only two months on the job leading the association, Perez has already testified in the state Senate to the need for greater accountability of charter schools and not hidden his members’ cries for more stable funding.
Where better to prepare for NJ politics? Perez is a Chicago native, his father a union organizer who took his son to community meetings as a child. That gave him the bug, and Perez spent his first four years out of college traveling the country in his Toyota Corolla working on Democratic campaigns and voter outreach, especially in the Latino community. He eventually landed back home, and joined the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, becoming its director. “Every state has its nuances, but let’s just say the politics and dynamics are similar. They are two states with not the greatest reputation in politics.”
Similar yet different: Both with charter laws into their second decade, Illinois has about 96 charter schools, New Jersey 73. But while New Jersey’s are spread throughout the state, all but nine of Illinois’ charter schools are located in Chicago, the product of a restricted law that requires local districts to authorize charters within their borders. Chicago boasted a mayor and a school superintendent — now U.S Education Secretary Arne Duncan — who were more inclined, but there was still stiff union opposition that Perez said was tough to overcome. “Virtually every one of the charters was out-performing the district schools,” Perez said. “Still, nobody wanted to believe that charter schools were successful.”
More fertile ground in NJ:
With a pro-charter governor in Christie, a dynamic pro-charter mayor in the state’s largest city, and a burgeoning school choice movement, Perez said New Jersey drew him as the right place for the next chapter in his career. “There is a legitimate opportunity to make a change here. After five years of frustrating hard work and not seeing much momentum in Illinois, I saw we could put in that same effort here and really make a difference.”
And not disappointed: “I’ve seen more go on in the name of promoting good education options for kids in the last two months than I fought for in all my five years in Illinois.”
Hometown: He lives in Jersey City with his wife, Lindsey, who works in client services for a software company.