Racial Segregation and Loss of Funding Key Issues
On April 14, the Hoboken Board of Education filed an appeal of the NJ Department of Education’s (NJDOE) decision to renew and expand the Hoboken Dual Language Charter School known as HoLa. In its petition, Hoboken details how the expanded charter school will exacerbate racial imbalance in the Hoboken schools and reduce funding available to students in district schools.
Hoboken argues the NJDOE failure to assess the impact of the HoLa expansion on the district’s racial balance and funding levels is a violation of the guarantee of a “thorough and efficient education” in the NJ constitution. Hoboken asks that the decision to approve the expansion be set aside so that NJDOE can undertake the constitutionally-required assessments.
The student demographic differences between the HoLa charter and district schools are stark. In 2012-13, 75% of the students enrolled in Hoboken schools were African-American or Latino. That same year, minority students comprised 39% of HoLa enrollment.
Hoboken’s petition also compares HoLa with the geographically nearest neighborhood public school, Connors Elementary School. While white students make up 60.6% of the students at HoLa, whites comprise 3.9% of the population at Connors. The Hispanic student population is 63.3% at Connors and only 28.8% at HoLa. In 2012-13, 96% of Connors students were low-income compared to 11% at HoLa.
“It’s hard to believe forty years after the civil rights movement that I would be writing about the need to integrate public schools. The charter populations do not reflect the overall diversity and immediate intervention is needed from the NJDOE,” Hoboken Superintendent Dr. Mark Toback wrote to former NJ Education Commissioner Chris Cerf on December 10, 2013, in response to the HoLa’s application to expand.
The petition cites a recent NJ Supreme Court decision regarding Montclair Quest Academy Charter School’s unsuccessful applications. The Court makes clear that, when evaluating a charter application, “the Commissioner must assess the racial impact that a charter school applicant will have on the district of residence in which the charter school will operate” and “must use the full panoply” of State power to avoid segregation resulting from the grant of a charter application.
Hoboken also raised the funding issue by providing the NJDOE “statistical information related to the multi-year trend of charter school funding, noting that the amount of funding allocated to charter schools has increased exponentially and is trending towards a state of crisis for the non-charter school children.”
In four of the past five years, the district has experienced double-digit increases in the funds allocated to charter schools and anticipates sending almost $8.5 million to charters next year. According to Dr. Toback, Hoboken is facing the prospect of significant teacher and staff layoffs and program cuts.
“In approving the renewal and expansion of the Hoboken Dual Language Charter School, the NJDOE acted with disregard for our State constitution, Supreme Court guidance, and its very own administrative code,” Dr. Toback said. “Given the negative impact of the Department’s decision on the district, the Hoboken Board of Education was left with little choice but to take action to protect the educational programs for the children attending the public schools.”
“Education Law Center supports Hoboken’s call for a comprehensive analysis by the NJDOE of the impact of charter expansion on district students,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. “The Legislature and the Court have made clear that the Department must consider student segregation and the ability to provide a thorough and efficient education before granting a charter application, renewal or expansion. This is essential to ensure charter schools improve, and not undermine, education for all Hoboken students.”
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