Why Is Education Law Center Discounting Parent Support for Charter Schools in Deference to NJEA?

Jasmine Morrison is a parent activist in Newark with two sons in charter schools. For more coverage of her advocacy, see here, here, and here. This first appeared in nj.com.

This year’s presidential election brought historic turnout, particularly in communities of color. Black and Latinx voters had seen enough of President Trump’s hateful, racist rhetoric, and voted in protest all across the country. I was proud to see my friends and neighbors in Newark line up around the block to cast their ballots, proving that when we are allowed to determine our own fate, our communities are better for it.

There’s another instance where outsiders are attempting to deny Newark parents our right of self-determination — a case in the New Jersey Supreme Court that would block the expansion of seven desperately-needed, high performing public charter schools. This case — brought by the Education Law Center (ELC) — may have a much lower profile than the election but the impact on Newark’s children could be profound. That’s why a group of parents (myself included) have launched a coalition we call Unapologetic Parents to tell ELC that we’re not going to apologize for choosing the schools that are best for our children.

First, a bit of background: in 2016, New Jersey’s education commissioner approved the expansion of these seven public charter schools because of their track record of delivering a high-quality education to Newark’s kids. The law center sued to block their expansion, arguing that the expansion of charter schools would hurt traditional public schools and that charters exacerbate segregation. Last year, the court ruled against ELC and rejected both arguments but ELC has appealed the case to the state Supreme Court. This brings us to today and explains why Newark parents are fighting to protect our children’s rights.

Newarkers agree with us when it comes to public charter schools. A recent poll from Change Research and the New Jersey Children’s Foundation found that two-thirds of residents support public charter schools. By more than a 2-to-1 margin, Newarkers believe that charter schools improve public education in the city, not detract from it. And 98% of residents believe it’s important that parents have a right to choose the school that’s best for their children.

Gov. Phil Murphy’s appointed attorney general agrees with us, too. In a recent brief supporting the schools’ expansion, the Attorney General Gurbir Grewal’s office wrote: “All seven schools have served students and families of Newark for several years, yielding successful graduation rates, high test scores, and innovative learning environments for Newark’s students. As a result of that success, more and more families each year have expressed a desire to send their children to these programs…This is precisely the type of growth envisioned by the Legislature..”.

He continued to say, “Both the ELC (Education Law Center) and Amici overlook not just the law and evidence to the contrary, but a more fundamental point: a thorough and efficient education is being provided to students in traditional public schools and in charter schools, and the record is devoid of any evidence that the success of the charters was achieved at the expense of the quality of education at the district schools.” In other words: these seven schools have every right to meet the demands of families and serve more students, and they do not undermine the efforts of other public schools in Newark.

Most importantly, parents in low-income communities agree with us, too. That’s why so many children are sitting on waitlists for these high-performing schools, waiting for the opportunity to give their children the education they deserve.

Which begs the question: why is ELC, an organization that has done a lot of good in the past, going out of its way to push an agenda that the majority of Newarkers disagree with? Maybe it’s because the bulk of their funding comes from the New Jersey Educators Association (NJEA), one of the most powerful and wealthy unions in the state.

At the end of the day, ELC needs to stop telling Black and brown parents what’s best, and let us make that decision ourselves. We support public charter schools because they give families a renewed feeling of pride in our children’s education while celebrating their culture. Several local elected officials, Governor Murphy’s office and the courts all understand that basic fact. That’s what the Unapologetic Parents effort is all about — and it’s a lesson we hope to teach Education Law Center.

What do you think?