Protesting the potential closing of schools, Dr. Keith Eric Benson, president of the Camden Education Association (CEA), walked more than 40 miles to raise awareness about the budget crisis facing the city’s traditional public schools. Benson began his walk on Monday, April 15 at the CEA office in Camden and concluded his journey on Wednesday, April 17 in Trenton at the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE). Prior to Benson’s testimony before the State Board of Education, a group of students, activists and pro-public education supporters rallied with the hopes of keeping three traditional public schools open that are currently slated to be closed before the start of next school year.
Benson documented his journey with #WeChooseMilesForEquity and #NJMiles4Equity to call attention to the lack of adequate funding in the city’s school district. More than 50 activists welcomed Benson to Trenton and praised him for his commitment to the children of Camden. Throughout the rally, activists emphasized the success that traditional public schools have when community members are involved in the decision-making process. They echoed Benson’s call for equitable funding for all of the state’s traditional public schools regardless of their ZIP code.
NJEA President Marie Blistan and NJEA Secretary-Treasurer Steve Beatty joined the rally outside of the NJDOE and offered both their praise for Camden’s public schools and their disappointment with inadequate funding.
“Today, every NJEA member is a Camden Education Association member because we’ve all faced the unnecessary budget cuts that hurt children,” said Blistan. “We believe in the people who work for the Camden City public schools. We believe in the children who attend the Camden City public schools. We believe in the value that the public schools in Camden hold for the future of the entire Camden community.”
Benson praised the support of all those around him throughout his 40-mile journey.
“What your support says to me is that this movement is bigger than Camden,” said Benson. “Other cities are facing the exact same thing. We’re here to fight, and I am here to meet with the commissioner and talk with him about what we need in the city to get our traditional public schools the resources they need.”
Blistan highlighted the positive initiatives that NJEA has implemented with the help and support of the CEA and CEA members over the years. She pointed to the results of the various programs as she urged the NJDOE to find a way to relieve the budgetary constraints facing the district.
“Our Priority Schools Program, which harnesses the power of our NJEA member-leaders along with parents, has reshaped schools in Camden,” Blistan said. “These schools are so successful because educators invest their time into the lives of the kids they teach.
“We’ve partnered with the New Jersey Center for Teaching and Learning and the Camden City School District, with the guidance and support of the Camden Education Association, to help more than a dozen of Camden City’s teachers become certified in physics so they could remain in district and provide a more rigorous education for the children of the city,” Blistan continued. “We’ve establish five community schools in Camden because we believe that schools work best when they involve parents and community members in the education of children.”
“This work was done because we believe in the transformative power of traditional public schools,” Blistan concluded.