Two years ago, when my son won a coveted spot via lottery at a local Public Charter school, we were thrilled. Everyone told us we had won a golden ticket. What we discovered on the first day of school was shocking. My son and all students in the school were being treated like second class citizens. To our dismay, his school is one of the worst-funded schools in the state of New Jersey!
Recently my seven year old burst out, “My teacher says our school needs money. We don’t have enough for more field trips and other projects. That is not fair. Why?”
His heartfelt and simple question just happens to be a complex one.
How do I explain to a seven year old the N.J. Charter School Act of 1995? According to this Act, charter schools are supposed to receive 90 percent of what local district schools spend per child, but my child’s school receives only 50 percent per child. How do I explain to him that when the state gives our local school district $100 million dollars “adjustment aid” his school, a ‘Public’ charter school, doesn’t receive one cent of it! When we are teaching my son 2+2=4, the state and district level math does not add up. Neither in his little head nor mine.
Even worse, the Charter School Law does not allow public funding for charter school facilities. Charter schools received zero dollars off the $10 billion dollars spent by the state on public school construction over the past 10 years. Charter schools typically spend 15 percent of their operating funds on their facilities, forcing my son’s school to operate on 35 percent of what local district schools do!
How do I tell him that this can be fixed only if the complex New Jersey Charter School funding formula is reworked, which is a monumental task in a down economy.
It is frightening to think how a wonderful school which provides quality education to my son, is run by committed administrators, teachers and volunteering parents and consistently has above average results in every sphere, is continuously facing a spiraling loss of funding. My son goes to school with a smile every morning and is taught by amazing teachers who sacrificed pay hikes and face severe resource cuts. But the miracle is my son is still getting a quality education and is “learning.” The school environment has children from diverse socio-economic, ethnic, religious and racial backgrounds. How wonderful is that! The bottom line is he loves it there and so do we.
My son’s school is innovative and gave us as parents a choice. His school is successful and has literally hundreds of hopeful children on their waiting list. So why are we being penalized for exercising a choice for quality education?
Why are the children in my son’s school being treated like second class citizens?