Wednesday, October 28, 2015

In Newark, charter schools beef up for political fight

Tom Moran in the Star-Ledger on how charter schools in Newark are becoming a potent political force:

The failure of urban schools, we are often told, can be traced to the apathy of urban parents when it comes to their children's success in the classroom.

It seems that in Newark, no one got that memo.

Because about 400 parents and their children crammed into the city council's hearing roomMonday night, filling the seats and balconies, and overflowing into hallways where they strained to hear.

What drove that kind of passion? A bid by North Star charter schools to build a new K-12 building on an old parking lot in the Central Ward.

"We outnumbered the teachers union by 10-1, and that tells you where the mood of this city is," says Barbara Martinez, a spokeswoman for North Star.

This is something entirely new. Until now, the charters have paid little attention to politics. They have served as the city's political punching bag, like the passive kid on the playground who never hits back.

But lately, the charters have been taking vitamins and doing lots of push-ups. With nearly 1 in 3 Newark kids in charter schools now, they have a reserve army of parents, one that grows every year.

And they recently hired a professional political operative, Muhammed Akil, who has built a staff of 20 local people and intends to hire more.

"The growing number does affects the politics," Akil says. "And we intend to weigh in heavily."

This could change Newark's political landscape, just as the state prepares to yield control of the city schools sometime in the next few years.

One impact could be on school elections. The charter schools could finally outmuscle the city's teachers' union, as they did Monday night. North Star's new building was approved by a vote of 8-1.

But the bigger question concerns the charter schools' collision course with Mayor Ras Baraka, who made charter schools a chief target during his election last year and vows now to block any further expansion.

In Newark, charter schools beef up for political fight

By Tom Moran | Star-Ledger Editorial Board 
Email the author | Follow on Twitter 
on October 25, 2015 at 7:45 AM, updated October 25, 2015 at 7:57 AM

 Subscribe in a reader