Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Beware The Charter School Review Board; My Testimony Before The Assembly Education Committee

John Mooney pulled together a great piece about yesterday's Assembly Education Committee hearing, where Assembly Bill A-4177, Assemblyman Diegnan's rewrite of the Charter School Program Act of 1995, got it's debut. Overall, I think the bill is great.  It covers all of the issues that need to be addressed in our 18 year old charter law, most notably the need for local control, and it does it thoroughly and cleanly.

The one part that scares the pants off of me though is the charter school review board created in the bill.  As written, it's a great idea.  But as this bill gets modified along the way, I fear it will be manipulated to become like the State Charter School Commission in Illinois.  

Assemblyman Diegnan happened to mention at the meeting yesterday that the idea for the charter school review board came from Carlos Perez of the New Jersey Charter Schools Association.  But apparently he doesn't like the way that Assemblyman Diegnan incorporated it into his bill.  

Perez told NJ Spotlight, "“Our intent is to have something that is its own independent authorizer, and as an entity they would be publicly accountable.”

Sounds to me like I was right.  Perez and company will try to turn this review board into the authorizer, and as you'll see below, that will function to undermine local control.  

Which is EXACTLY what he wants...

Read my testimony and decide for yourself if you think my fear is warranted.  

Darcie Cimarusti
Save Our Schools New Jersey
Assembly Education Committee Testimony
Assembly Bill A-4177
June 10, 2013

Good Afternoon Chairman Diegnan, Vice-Chairwoman Watson-Coleman, and members of the Committee; my name is Darcie Cimarusti, and I am here today to provide my perspective on Assembly Bill A-4177. 
First I wish to commend Assemblyman Diegnan for listening to the voices of the over 7,500 residents who signed a Save Our School NJ petition asking for local control over charter school approvals. 
For these 7,500 New Jersey residents, local control is non-negotiable. 
But I am quite certain that powerful forces will come before you and lobby HARD to have this provision removed, and I am also quite certain that those same forces will implore you to expand the role of the charter school review board established in this bill. 
Here’s why I think this will happen, and why I am here to warn you that doing so would be a REALLY bad idea. 
In an interview in my hometown paper, Carlos Perez, the CEO of the New Jersey Charter Schools Association, said the current charter law that allows charters to be approved against local wishes provides freedom from, and I quote, “A TYRANNY OF THE MAJORITY.” 
Just let those words sink in a moment. 
In Mr. Perez’s estimation, affording local taxpayers the opportunity to decide how best to allocate resources and educate students in their district is a tyranny of the majority. 
How did Mr. Perez develop such a skewed view of local control? 
It seems to come from his time in Illinois. 
Mr. Perez came to New Jersey via Chicago, where he was the Director of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools. He worked alongside now Secretary of Education Arne Duncan who ran Chicago Public Schools. With Secretary Duncan at the helm in Chicago, charters flourished, but Mr. Perez did not enjoy such success in the rest of the state. 
Why?  Because in Illinois local districts authorize charter schools, and outside of Chicago, districts simply didn’t want them. 
Mr. Perez referred to his time in Illinois as “five years of frustrating hard work” that didn’t produce “much momentum.” And much to Mr. Perez’s chagrin, the charter backlash followed him to New Jersey.  
We are not alone; across the nation districts don’t like having their autonomy usurped. 
Rest assured that the New Jersey Charter Schools Association won’t be the only group to suggest that local control measures needs to be removed from this bill. 
Watch for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, or NACSA, to come before you as well. NACSA’s CEO, Greg Richmond, worked for the Chicago Public Schools for over a decade and created the city’s Charter School Office. During his tenure, he played a large role in Chicago’s unchecked charter growth. 
More recently Mr. Richmond, with the help of the highly controversial Administrative Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, was instrumental in managing to undermine local control in Illinois. ALEC and NACSA lobbied for the passage of Illinois’ Charter School Quality Law, which in 2011 created a State Charter School Commission, much like the review board established in A-4177. Incredibly, Mr. Richmond was ultimately appointed to lead the Commission. 
Under the new law, charter applicants can appeal a local board’s denial to the Commission, and the board’s denial can be overturned. I fear the charter review panel proposed in this bill could be manipulated to function quite similarly, effectively undermining local control. 
The New Jersey Charter Schools Association, NACSA and other lobbying groups will testify that local control will kill charter growth. 
I submit to you that perhaps limited charter growth is warranted, especially when the growth under Secretary Duncan, Mr. Richmond and Mr. Perez seems to have led to recent events in Chicago. 
The nation just watched in disbelief as Mayor Rahm Emanuel shuttered an unprecedented and historic 50 public schools, predominantly in low-income urban neighborhoods of color, sparking citywide protests. Mayor Emanuel cited, among other reasons, a “serious underenrollment problem. 
Today Chicago has almost 120 charter schools, clearly a contributing factor to the “serious underenrollment” in the traditional public schools. 
Is this the future we want here in New Jersey? 
I urge you to continue to listen to your constituents, not state and national lobbyists, and defend and preserve the local control mechanism in A-4177.


  1. Excellent, Darcie. Thank you for your vigilance. I'd only add that part of the myth of "underenrollment" is the math used to achieve that statement. I doubt any parents in NJ would be happy if the standard were 40 students in a classroom.

  2. Darcie---GREAT Going !!! The American People better wake up before the corporate elite with the backing of Obama, destroy democracy in all inner cities and do it deliberately.