Kyle Rosenkrans is a first-generation college graduate from New Jersey who went on to become a civil rights attorney, law professor, and public policy advocate. He is Executive Director of the New Jersey Children’s Foundation.
There’s a thing that happens when you do anything that supports charter schools: you get labeled “pro-charter” and then, magically, your views on basically every other issue in education get disqualified by some. You’d be surprised at the amount of time some people spend worrying about whether they’ll get invited to certain events, or what job opportunities they might lose, if they decide to support a charter school initiative. It’s toxic, reductive, and intellectually dishonest to suggest that to be pro-charter is somehow anti-district.
I’m past the point of caring about these kinds of things, so I’ll just say what I believe: the New Jersey Department of Education was right when they approved the renewal, expansion and merger of several Newark charter schools earlier this month. The expansion of charter schools in Newark was a critical ingredient in the decade-long formula for improving educational outcomes for Newark children prior to COVID (which has been studied extensively). In the post-pandemic era, their approach to boosting student learning is needed even more.
I’ve been critical of the NJDOE’s decisions in recent years, so it’s only fair that I commend them here. They clearly spent a lot of time and deliberation on these decisions, with numerous site visits and the ability to evaluate real student learning data for the first time in 3 years. It’s no wonder that the good work of schools like North Star, Link, BRICK Achieve, People’s Prep, Discovery and others shined through that process.
The most exciting part is that charter growth today does not need to be a zero-sum proposition: Newark is a thriving city with a growing population that is leading to increases in student enrollment–unlike many other major cities in post-pandemic America. It’s also a place where annual state aid has increased more than $320M since 2015, local tax revenue is up more than $40M, and there’s nearly half a billion in federal stimulus dollars earmarked for public schools in the city. Therefore, the growth of charter schools does not have to come at the expense of the district in an environment where both funding and enrollment are going up.
You may still hear some people falsely claim that these decisions will nonetheless require the district to close schools. These are nothing but lies that exploit people’s worst fears. It also belies the last five years of experience in Newark. Since 2018, we have seen significant growth in BOTH high performing charter schools and new district schools in Newark. We can debate the wisdom of the district’s growth strategy, but what cannot be debated is that the growth of charters did not result in district school closures–and in fact, the district launched NEW schools. So why would that pattern change now?
Don’t believe the hype: it is indeed possible to support BOTH the success of the district schools and the growth of high-performing charters.