To no one’s surprise, Education Law Center is threatening legal action against the expansion of renaissance schools in Camden, a type of charter/district hybrid school authorized under the Urban Hope Act. (See post below.) The basis of the prospective suit is ELC’s claim that the new schools, run by the highly-regarded charter non-profits Mastery, KIPP, and Uncommon, violate the Urban Hope Act because the law “only allows Mastery, Uncommon and KIPP to open additional renaissance schools that are in buildings that have been newly constructed or substantially refurbished by these chains.”
All renaissance operators have plans on file to either substantially refurbish buildings or erect new ones. Today’s NJ Spotlight has links to four of the five school applications, which itemize compliance with Urban Hope Act regulations. Apparently, ELC prefers Camden students to bide their time in long-failing district schools where one in ten kids read and do math at grade level and two out of five students don’t graduate from high school.
The irony here, of course, is that ELC righteously litigated for Camden children’s rights to the constitutionally-required “thorough and efficient education system” through the long series of Abbott cases. Now that families have a shot at that assurance, the organization is trying to quash their hopes for educational equity. Here’s Camden parent Josie Rodriguez, who is a member of the new group “Parents for Great Camden Schools”:
The parents I talk already enrolled in the renaissance schools tell me that this isn’t another empty promise Camden is so used to; this is real. These conversations convince me that renaissance schools are part of my game plan for greatness for my child. What is yours?
I want my child to have a great education, better than mine and better than the one he is getting currently at Rafael Cordero Molina School. A great education requires a good building, parent involvement and a well-trained staff. These are all lacking at Molina. This is wrong. This must change.
ELC’s threat of litigation follows Save Our Schools-NJ’s suit against renaissance schools based on the new schools’ “financial and segregative impact” on traditional district schools. It’s probably worth pointing out that Mark Weber (Jersey Jazzman) and Julia Sass Rubin (founder of SOS-NJ) published a report a few months ago on N.J. charter schools that noted that “unlike the other Big Seven districts, the racial composition of Camden’s district and charter schools is virtually identical to each other.”
It’s probably also worth pointing out that more than a big chunk of ELC’s revenues, including funding for this litigation, comes from NJEA. (According to Guidestar, ELC’s total revenue for 2013 was $1,891,812. $550K came from NJEA.)
Renaissance schools in Camden aren’t going anywhere, despite the challenges by ELC and SOS-NJ. But in the meantime this litigation is a distraction from the central focus of improving all schools in Camden and offering options to families.
NJCAN’s Janellen Duffy nails it in yesterday’s Star Ledger:
We need to move beyond these arguments over who is really serving the poorest students and embrace the real opportunities we have for change in Camden. I for one will be curious to see if Save Our Schools, ELC and others can get past these data wars and take a real look at what’s happening in these renaissance schools. We know that parents and families in Camden are looking to embrace these new school opportunities. We should be fighting to support them and the growth of high quality schools with a proven track record that are serving the students with the greatest needs.
The misrepresentations and factual errors of interest groups will not distract us from the urgent cause of improving our schools,” he said in a statement. “With two out of five students not graduating from high school, it’s critical that we stay focused on improving the education of our children. We have remarkable students, but for far too long the system has come up short in providing them with the educational opportunities they deserve.