Parents Rally in Favor of Charter Schools

By Brenda Flanagan

The wheels on the bus stopped in suburban Maplewood this morning as charter schools brought about 100 parents from less-affluent Newark neighborhoods here to voice opposition to a bill that would block charter school expansion across the state for three years.

Tawana Emory’s son attends North Star in Newark.

“My son has thrived since being at North Star. He’s very bright, he’s intelligent, he’s happy, he looks forward to going to school. And not only that, the Newark Public School System, let’s be clear about it: it’s in the toilet,” Emory said.

“It’s hypocritical. It’s reprehensible that those who want to live out here want to dictate to those of us who live in the cities what options we have for our children,” said Shavar Jeffries.

The moratorium’s proposed by Assemblywoman Mila Jasey to let lawmakers evaluate how well New Jersey’s 20-year-old charter school system’s working. Protester Tawana Roebuck says it’s working beautifully for her daughter.

“She’s doing excellent, there are excellent teachers there. And it’s a choice I made to send her to Rise Academy and not the neighborhood school,” Roebuck said.

“When I see parents involved, I think that’s the best thing,” Jasey said.

Jasey says her bill would not freeze currently approved expansions at New Jersey’s 92 charter schools. For example, KIPP’s Seek School — with 220 kindergarten and first-graders in Newark — could still expand up to its pre-authorized fourth grade level.

New Jersey charters score well, according to a recent Stanford study showing 30 percent outpaced public schools in reading, 40 percent in math from 2006-07 to 2010-11. In Newark, students attending charter schools got an additional year’s worth of academic learning in math, more than seven months’ worth in reading. Jasey wants public schools to benefit.

“We need to figure out lessons learned. How do we share those lessons and how do we make sure that every single one of the public schools is excellent? That’s my goal,” Jasey said.

Charter corporations keep pushing aggressively to expand. They were on site and organized the protest. Jasey acknowledged lawmakers could probably assess the charter system while it’s still operating, but says they wouldn’t do it unless faced with a moratorium.

“If the focus is to get other individuals to come to the table, you have a huge group of advocates who can be very helpful in driving that discussion,” said Newark Public Schools Advisory Board Chairman Rashon Hasan.

Jasey called for a discussion of charter schools and she certainly got one — but with the volume turned way up — as Newark voices demand to be heard.