Camden's corporate con

Published on Thursday, August 21, 2014

Camden City Board of EducationNew Jersey’s urban school districts have long been the targets of the corporate “reformers” who seek to privatize their funding. That’s been particularly true in the state takeover districts, with Newark and Camden singled out by the Christie administration for full frontal assaults.

Back in 2012, NJEA was facing fast-tracked legislation, the Urban Hope Act (UHA), that sought to allow Camden and two other districts to each open up to four “Renaissance school projects,” variations on traditional charter schools. They receive 95 percent of their districts’ per pupil expenditure (as opposed to the 90 percent that traditional charters receive).

Knowing the UHA was assured of passage, NJEA worked with legislators to correct an array of deficiencies, even while harboring concerns about the precedent such schools would set.

The first Renaissance schools are slated to open this year in Camden, but last June, a bill amending the original UHA was passed by both houses of the Legislature. It would expand the number of Renaissance schools in Camden.

Camden’s new superintendent, Paymon Rouhanifard, knows how to bring charters to urban districts. Christie’s appointee has a resume short on educational experience, but long on creating charters in New York and Newark. The game plan is clear.

NJEA strongly opposed the 2014 UHA amendments, which would extend the application timeline for the fourth Renaissance project by another year, and allow Renaissance schools to be located in existing buildings, whereas the original law required new construction. Two Renaissance providers, Mastery and Uncommon, have questionable track records, and have been approved for 10 charters in Camden.

Mastery has siphoned enormous resources from Philadelphia’s public school budget, while Uncommon has done the same in Newark. In both cities, public schools have been closed, and large numbers of teachers and staff laid off. Both chains have less-than-stellar reputations for educating special needs and ESL students.

Camden is already feeling the impact. Hundreds of Camden Education Association members have been laid off, with many more now in the line of fire.

Even though the UHA amendments included an early retirement incentive that would have softened the impact of layoffs, NJEA opposed the bill because it went way beyond the original legislation. Christie conditionally vetoed that provision anyway, and sent the bill back to the Legislature for approval without it. NJEA is urging the Legislature to reject the amendments.

“Passage of this legislation expands the existing law, enabling the massive corporate takeover of the Camden Public Schools,” said NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer.

That takeover is the true agenda of the Christie administration and its allies. This isn’t about education. It’s about privatization.

But it’s not a level playing field, and NJEA members in Camden know the game is fixed. NJEA members everywhere need to join this fight, which threatens every school district as long as Christie is still governor.

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