by Diane D’Amico
in the Press of Atlantic City on Thursday, May 26, 2016
Gov. Chris Christie came to Atlantic City Thursday to talk about a huge state-wide fight.
But it wasn’t the Legislation to save the financially strapped city, or the referendum for North Jersey casinos that had the governor’s attention.
Christie spoke before an enthusiastic crowd at the New Jersey Charter Schools Conference at Bally’s, telling charter school operators, teachers and administrators that he is on their side, and that their enemy is the New Jersey Education Association.
“You are a lifeline,” he told them. “What you do provides hope and opportunity where often there is none.”
Christie, who got a standing ovation as he walked to the podium, led his talk with several reforms he is proposing to make it easier for charter schools to operate and expand. They include allowing single-purpose charter schools, such as one-gender or special population schools; easing certification requirements for new teachers, and providing more flexibility for locating school facilities.
Calling charter schools a legacy issue, he said he would continue to expect accountability and would close schools that were failing. Seventeen have closed since 2010, and 39 new schools have opened in the same period.
“High accountability is the protection of your mission,” Christie said. “Opponents look for vulnerabilities to exploit. We can’t allow opponents to use failings to paint all charter schools with the same brush.”
He talked about the thousands of children who are on waiting lists to get into charter schools in Newark and Camden and railed against the NJEA, whose members he said are more concerned with their “platinum health benefits” than they are with children. He called charter schools the light that push away the false darkness that says disadvantaged children can’t learn.
“I’m on this team with all of you because you’ve earned it,” Christie said. “This is a fight that will only grow more intense in the coming months.”
He urged the members to get politically active. Earlier in the conference the association showed a “Charters Change Lives” video and urged members to join the advocacy movement. One goal is to get more pro-charter candidates elected to local school boards.
Almost a third of all children in Camden and Newark now attend charter schools, which has created tension with the public school districts, whose budgets fund the charter schools.
The NJEA immediately criticized Christie’s reform proposals, issuing a statement saying his strategy of withholding resources from the public school systems that serve all children and lavishing attention on charter schools that serve only a select few, has failed miserably.
On Wednesday the Education Law Center filed an appeal of Education Commissioner David Hespe’s February approval of a major enrollment increase in seven Newark charter schools over, saying expansion would exacerbate the public school district’s budget crisis and hurt the children.
Janellen Duffy, Executive Director of JerseyCAN: The New Jersey Campaign for Achievement Now, issued a statement supporting the charter school changes saying they will promote the growth of high-quality charter schools.