June 18, 2018
A bill fast-tracked by the New Jersey Legislature would allow the State-operated Camden school district to turn over operation of most, if not all, of its enrollment and schools to three out-of-state charter groups: New York-based KIPP and Uncommon and Philadelphia-based Mastery charter networks.
Under special legislation enacted in 2011, the Camden district has approved the operation of 12 elementary, middle and high schools by KIPP, Uncommon and Mastery, closing several district schools in the process. Under the law, the three charter chains secured pre-approval from the NJ Department of Education and the Camden district to enroll over 9,000 Camden students, or more than 60 % of Camden’s total enrollment, and open 16 schools.
The new bill would amend the existing law by expanding the geographical area in Camden where KIPP, Mastery and Uncommon can expand from certain Camden neighborhoods to the entire city.
Another amendment would force the Camden district superintendent to fund and operate a so-called “common” enrollment system, designed to facilitate the flow of students into the KIPP, Mastery and Uncommon charters, even though the Camden district has no authority or control over the charters.
Even worse, the amendment would permit the superintendent to outsource the enrollment system to a “separate entity,” thus requiring the district to hand over sensitive and legally protected student records to a private, unaccountable non-profit or for-profit company. On its face, the law violates the protections for student records under federal law.
Education Law Center opposes the bill because the amendments, taken together, would delegate to KIPP, Uncommon and Mastery the authority to serve most, if not all, Camden students, fueling the Camden district’s closure of even more of its schools.
“This bill green-lights State-operated Camden to close not just a few, but all or most, district-operated schools, and then consign all or the vast majority of Camden students to attend a KIPP-, Uncommon- or Mastery-run school,” Mr. Sciarra added. “The bill delegates the authority and responsibility for the education of most, if not all, Camden school children to three private charter chains, with scant accountability to Camden parents, residents, voters and taxpayers.”
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