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When Paul Robeson Charter School in Trenton received word that the Murphy Administration was rejecting its proposal to expand to serve students in grades K-2, parents were “devastated.” Why? At Paul Robeson, 61% of students meet state expectations in reading and 53% do in math, higher than the state average, while the city’s district schools do far worse, even with $4,000 more per pupil to spend each year, according to the State. In fact, in 2020 Paul Robeson received the State Department of Education’s highest ranking (Tier 1) and was recognized as a Lighthouse District, an award that signifies a school’s academic gains and innovative practices and serves as a “beacon of success for public education in New Jersey.”
The rejection by Murphy’s Department of Education, according to Paul Robeson’s School Director Freya Lund, means that families are now blocked “from access to a high-quality education in these earlier grades.” Currently over 1,000 students are on Trenton charter school waitllists.
The Murphy Administration’s refusal to offer more Trenton students access to high-quality schools will not surprise New Jersey residents who read newspapers. On Sunday the Washington Post’s Jay Mathews drilled down on another one of the expansion rejections, North Star Academy in Newark, where “more Black students at North Star scored proficient on the 2019 state tests in math and literacy than in the entire Newark school district, even though the district has three times as many Black children as the school does.” Matthews opines, “It appears Murphy is trying to appease teachers unions that want all local school districts to have the power to approve or disapprove charters, which could kill the charter movement.”
And last week in the Star-Ledger, Tom Moran wrote,
The hidden hand in all this is the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union and the biggest spender by far on both of Murphy’s gubernatorial campaigns. Teachers at most charters are non-union, and the NJEA has pressed Murphy to freeze all expansions, even if it forces another 10,000 poor families back to struggling district schools.
In her rejection letter to North Star, Acting Education Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan said she was blocking the expansion (as well as six other Newark charter expansions) because the district school board and its superintendent Roger Leon asked her to do so. That’s like allowing Amazon to veto the creation of a new online vendor with cooler inventory and higher customer satisfaction. NJ Children’s Foundation’s Executive Director Kyle Rosenkrans commented that Murphy has given Leon “carte blanche to veto charter school growth … in what is arguably the highest performing urban charter sector in America.”
In the wake of Paul Robeson Charter School’s rejection, teachers and parents have initiated a letter-writing campaign to Gov. Murphy, Acting Commissioner Allen-McMillan, Acting DOE Charter Office Director Robert Gregory, Acting DOE Deputy Chief of Staff Julie Blunt (why is everyone at the DOE non-permanent?), and the Governor’s Office of Constituent Relations. To send a letter, click here.
Dear Governor Murphy and Acting Commissioner Allen-McMillan,
I’m writing to you today to ask for you to reconsider the devastating decision by the Department of Education to deny Paul Robeson Charter School’s expansion to serve Trenton students in Grades K-2. The denial is not in the best interest of the students and families of Trenton as it directly blocks their ability to access a quality education.
Paul Robeson Charter School is a Tier 1 school that was designated as a Lighthouse District for equitable outcomes and innovative practices. We were also amongst the first schools to safely open for in person learning to students in Trenton during the pandemic, and the only charter school awarded an NJ Learning Loss Grant for our proven record of addressing unfinished learning and accelerating learning outcomes.
This decision ignores the high impact Paul Robeson is having on student achievement in the Trenton community and references data that is not reflective of the current and complete facts regarding financial health, family demand for seats, and student attendance. We are providing a great education to students in Trenton, and we ask that you take into account all of the facts so that this harmful decision can be reversed.