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Mariclare Rivera is a Kearney resident and parent of four; three of whom attend Hudson Arts & Science Charter School.
When I grew up in Kearny, my parents chose to send me to Catholic elementary and middle school. My parents then gave me the option of where I could go to high school, and I wanted to stay in a Catholic school. The neighborhood high school seemed too large, and I wanted to stay with what I already knew. Today, three of my four children attend a free public charter school that’s actually located in my old school building.
My oldest daughter is now in the fifth grade. She has been attending Hudson Arts & Science Charter School in Kearny since kindergarten, joining as part of the school’s first year in operation six years ago. It’s all she and her siblings, in third and first grade, know.
As our daughter got closer to kindergarten age, we heard lots of good things about iLearn Schools, which now operates five public charter schools offering high-quality STEAM-based education. Those recommendations and the proximity to our home made it an intriguing option. Now, it is the only school our family has known. We like it there. Our kids are happy there. They love their teachers. They are thriving.
When I go to pick up my children, the staff knows who I am. They know who my mom is when she pitches in to pick them up. The school is small and it’s like a family. During the pandemic, all schools were scrambling but Hudson was nimble. As schools went back in hybrid mode, we made the decision to keep our kids home. The school was very accommodating. Again, it was because they knew our family and the smaller size of the school that allowed for this relationship. This is one benefit of public charter schools. Schools have the autonomy and flexibility to respond to parent and family needs.
Charter schools have been around in New Jersey for 25 years. There are currently 87 public charter schools serving nearly 60,000 students in the state, with more than 20,000 students on waitlists. All public charter schools in New Jersey are tuition-free public schools run by non-profit organizations open to all students, regardless of zip code, race/ethnicity, or ability level. They are authorized by the New Jersey Department of Education and must apply to be renewed every five years. The department conducts a review of academic and financial accountability benchmarks to determine whether or not to renew.
Earlier this month, Gov. Phil Murphy said he supports high-quality top performing schools regardless of school type – charter, district, magnet, or private – and that “we want to educate kids the very best way possible in America.” Acting Education Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan and the state Department of Education approved 23 public charter schools for renewal allowing 10,000 students to remain at schools that are meeting their needs.
However, seven high-performing charter schools in Trenton, Newark, Paterson, New Brunswick and Kearny, including Hudson Arts & Science Charter School, were denied their expansion requests to serve additional students. This action denies continuity of education for hundreds of students, including many of low-income families of color. Hudson wants to add grades 9-12. This would allow students to complete their high school experience.
I want the expansion so my child can stay in the system she loves and is used to. I’m fortunate enough that I have three years before my daughter will be impacted. Still, if we had been approved, by the time my daughter hit ninth grade, there would have been a full high school. Knowing people who have or had eighth-graders who had to go elsewhere, I don’t understand why a school performing well is not being given the opportunity to grow and why people are actively standing in our way to give our kids the education we choose.
Charter schools are by definition schools of choice. Parents and families choose to attend them. Many must make sacrifices or overcome obstacles just to get there each day. But they do it so their child has the best education opportunity for them. It’s not fair to add more challenges by limiting their growth and stymieing their progress.
When my parents wanted the best education option that met my needs, they went the private school route. That was their choice. Parents should have the choice for a free education for their children. Public charters schools are that option, and the state should allow them to grow instead of limiting them. Let us have a choice in how and where we educate our kids.
(This was first published in Advance Media.)