Gov. Chris Christie Thursday traveled to Camden to sign legislation that attempts to expand education options in failing schools and urban school districts and provide students with access to educational opportunities.
Christie was joined by Camden Mayor Dana Redd for the signing at the Lanning Square School, where on June 9 he and the mayor publicly announced the initiative aimed at providing greater school choice for students in the some of the worst performing districts in the state.
The new law allows three districts – Camden, Newark, and Trenton – to partner with one or more nonprofits to construct as many as four “renaissance schools” in each district. The nonprofits must have experience operating schools in low-achieving districts and commit to both building a new school and offering a rigorous academic program designed to prepare every student for college, career, and beyond.
“Last June, Mayor Redd and I announced an innovative public-private education project designed to turn around some of the most chronically failing schools,” Christie said. “Today, I am proud to sign the Urban Hope Act to finally give students and parents trapped in some of the state’s school districts with the largest achievement gaps, hope and opportunity for increased educational options that will lead to a successful and productive future. While renaissance schools are just one component of my administration’s aggressive educational reform agenda, there is more critical work that must be done this year to address the education challenges facing our state.”
Christie believes 100,000 children are trapped in nearly 200 chronically failing New Jersey schools. He also believes putting the opportunity of a quality education within every child’s reach, no matter where they live or their economic circumstances is an issue of vital importance to the future of the state.
The Urban Hope program is designed to target students with the greatest needs. The effort could involve after school programs or extracurricular activities, longer school days or years. The focus in the schools will be about getting results in the classroom through greater freedom and flexibility to adapt to the unique needs of students.
“Today’s signing of the Urban Hope Act is truly a victory for our young students,” Redd said. She added, “The Urban Hope Act will truly give the three urban school districts – Camden, Newark, and Trenton – hope and will offer young urban students a new academic opportunity. If we provide our children with the necessary tools like a solid education, safe learning environments, and clean and secure neighborhoods to grow up in, we are offering them a second chance to succeed in the ever changing global economy.”
Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-Camden) said of the legislation, “The signing of this Democratic bill developed in cooperation with education experts represents a leap forward for New Jersey education reform. Democrats know education progress is best built through consensus, not confrontation, and will use this approach going forward.
“We can no longer ignore how many children in Camden, Trenton and Newark are losing a chance at a strong future,” Greenwald said.” Access to a good education is not a privilege, but a fundamental right. We will not waver from this belief. We have more work to do, but this is an example of how we can work together to find compromise to build a better future for our children."
An application for a renaissance school must come jointly from the district and the non-profit school management organization that would operate it. The application must be submitted within three years to the state education commissioner for approval. Only upon the commissioner’s approval would a renaissance school be built. Renaissance schools would be subject to the same educational standards as any other public schools and be accountable to the state Department of Education.
“We must continue to be impatient for the thousands of students that remain stuck in failing schools across the state,” state Acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf said. “The signing of this bill today provides one more tool that we have to ensure that a student’s zip code does not define his destiny. We must continue to seek high-quality education options for our students so that every child can graduate from high school ready for college and career.”
DOE would annually evaluate whether renaissance school projects are meeting certain goals and improving student achievement. This would be accomplished through required assessments of the performance of the renaissance schools ten years after the first school opens or five years after the third, whichever comes first.
The sponsors of S-3002/A-4264 are Sen. Donald Norcross (D-Camden) and Assemblymen Angel Fuentes (D-Camden), Gilbert Wilson (D-Camden) and Troy Singleton (D-Burlington)
The Urban Hope Act is one of several pieces of the administration’s overall effort to improve education. Other aspects awaiting legislative action include: the Opportunity Scholarship Act, which would establish a five-year pilot program to provide tax credits to entities contributing to scholarships for certain low-income students; the School Children First Act, which provides for an educator evaluation system based on multiple measures of teacher effectiveness; allows for merit pay; ends the practice of forced placement for teachers; and requires that reductions in staff be made on the basis of effectiveness rather than seniority; and the Charter Reform Bill, which provides critical updates to strengthen and improve New Jersey’s charter law, including increasing the number of charter school authorizers.
—TOM HESTER SR., NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM