Newark Mayor Disapproves Christie’s Decision to Expand Charter Schools

POLITICO Pro reports Newark Mayor Ras Baraka has recently criticized Gov. Chris Christie for his administration’s recent decision to allow several charter schools in the city to expand, calling the action “unfortunate, irresponsible and damaging” to district schools.

“The expansion could not have come at a worse time,” Baraka said in a statement. “The governor’s recent decision to add an additional $27 million for Newark schools to his budget was a step forward toward reducing our $72 million public schools deficit. But his decision to allow the expansion of charter schools at this time is a huge step backwards for our traditional public schools.”

In January during his State of the State address Christie considered his “vow to prioritize” public schools a “resounding success.” Others have called it “irresponsible” and “could not have happened at a worse time.” Christie is actively making it easier for charter schools to serve in New Jersey, therefore making it harder for public schools. With already inadequate funds, he embarked on the costliest reengineering of state education ever.

State education commissioner David Hespe says the state has a moral obligation to provide high quality education to every child. However, favoring charter schools has lead to New Jersey public schools having depleted funds, half empty classrooms, with the remaining students being the the most underprivileged. Public schools have been forced to cut budgets, delete programs, and lay off faculty. All of these reductions have lead to a dependence on charter schools.

The New Jersey education department was already at a $72 million shortfall. Christie added $27 million to the education budget, but it had little effect due to the increase of charter schools soaking up funds. A big victim of financial constraints is the special education departments in public schools.

When Newark Mayor Ras Baraka called Christie’s education reform “a major step backwards” Christie replied with “I’m the decider, you have nothing to do with it.” Originally, Christie’s education proposal looked promising and hopeful. But then, reform became cryptic and followed a more top-down approach rather than bottom-up.

The Department of Education on Monday approved three new charter schools and the expansion of 16 existing ones throughout New Jersey. Nineteen other charters were renewed. The latest approvals bring the total number of charter seats available statewide to 50,711 for next school year – a 10 percent bump over the current year.

Two of the new schools will open in Newark during the 2017-18 academic year and will serve up to 852 students the first year.

The seven Newark campuses that were approved to expand were North Star Academy, Robert Treat Academy, TEAM Academy, Great Oaks, Maria L. Varisco Rogers, New Horizons and University Heights charter schools.

Baraka said that between being shortchanged in state funding and losing money to charter schools, the local school district has been forced to cut programs and reduce teachers and other staff, including those working in key areas like special education. He also added that major charter school expansions will hurt the Newark Public Schools’ budget over the next five years.

“Any further expansion of enrollments in Newark charter schools should have been halted until the NPS budget shortfalls can be addressed to make certain all schools have the resources needed to deliver a high quality education to their students,” Baraka stated.