On Thursday, February 2, 2012 the New Jersey Assembly Education Committee considered Assembly bill 2147 (bills A3356/S3005/S3001 last session), which would increase Charter School educational and financial accountability and transparency and address the fact that New Jersey Charter School students do not represent the demographics of their sending districts. Christian Estevez, Executive Vice President of the Latino Action Network, testified in support of A-2147 which would reform the state’s broken charter school law. This bill was favorably reported out of committee by a unanimous bipartisan vote. You can read his testimony below.
THE LATINO ACTION NETWORK
BEFORE THE NEW JERSEY ASSEMBLY EDUCATION COMMITTEE
FEBRUARY 2, 2012
Christian Estevez, Executive Vice President
Latino Action Network
P.O. Box 943
Freehold, NJ 07728
Phone: (973) 418-7012
Good afternoon, my name is Christian Estevez and I am the Vice President of the Latino Action Network. We are a statewide advocacy organization dedicated to mobilizing New Jersey’s Latino community to seek greater social, economic and educational justice.
I thank you for the opportunity to testify today in support of Assembly Bill A-2147 which improves accountability and transparency in New Jersey’s Charter Schools.
While our state has some of the best schools in the nation, it is also abundantly clear that many of the schools in our urban communities are in crisis. We must do everything that we can to improve the educational opportunities available to the children in our urban communities. We recognize that quality Charter Schools can play an important role in the provision of additional educational opportunities for our children.
We see quality Charter Schools as a part of the solution to the crisis faced by many Latino families. We welcome any approach that contributes positively toward helping those children with the most need. However, in cases where any school, whether they are a Charter School or a regular public school, is not providing quality opportunities to our children, they become part of the problem instead of being part of the solution.
The Latino Action Network supports any measure that would increase accountability and transparency in the schools that educate children in our communities. We support Assembly Bill 2147 because it takes positive steps toward providing that increased accountability and transparency. This bill addresses problems in enrollment procedures that have led to many of the children with the most need to be left out of the process.
Whenever a Charter School engages in selective recruitment (the practice of actively recruiting the cream of the crop in a school district while making it hard for students with the most need to participate) they violate the basic premise of Charter Schools as a tool for positive reform. Our outdated and broken Charter School law leaves the system wide open to this sort of abuse. A-2147 addresses this particular problem by making it easier for all children in a struggling school district to participate in the Charter School selection process.
We have to make sure that we go beyond providing mere “choice”. We have to make sure that we also provide “access” to all of the children in our communities. Choice is not enough when children and their families are not aware of the application process and how to navigate it. Choice is not enough when a family in crisis does not have the resources to research the various Charter Schools and their individual selection processes.
This bill increases ACCESS by automatically entering all children from a sending school district into the selection lotteries and gives them the ability to opt out of the lottery if they choose not to attend a Charter School. This provision would go a long way toward providing choice and access to a broader cross section of the community, especially those students that tend to be underrepresented like children with disabilities and children with Limited English Proficiency.
The Latino Action Network supports “quality” Charter Schools that have a student body that is representative of their sending districts. We also support Charter Schools that are held to the same high standards of accountability and transparency as the rest of our public schools. We feel that this bill goes a long way toward setting that standard for Charter Schools.
- Great Charter Schools that meet and exceed New Jersey’s Core Curriculum Content Standards should be supported.
- Great Charter Schools that comply with laws that prohibit discrimination should be supported.
- Great Charter Schools that are fiscally responsible in how they spend tax payer dollars should be supported.
- Great charter schools that make adequate yearly progress for five consecutive years in accordance with the provisions of the “No Child Left Behind Act” should be supported.
This bill will help the state hold all schools accountable.
All of our children matter and all of our children should have access to quality public schools whether they are regular schools or Charter Schools. The Latino Action Network stands willing and ready to work with lawmakers to develop a comprehensive plan that improves public education for the benefit of all New Jersey. We believe that New Jersey should strive to provide the comprehensive and equitable education which our state constitution requires and all of our children deserve.