What do you do when your child is ready for kindergarten and you believe in a public school education but your district school, along with many public schools in your city, is failing? One necessary answer is supporting improvements in the public school system. However, substantive changes have been slow and it will be a long time before our schools are functioning as they should.
So what do you do, meanwhile, to avoid compromising your child’s education and development by sending him/her to a failing school? The answer lies in educational alternatives. If you believe in a public school education, seek a tuition-free school, and want to stay in Jersey City, then a high-quality charter school may be your best option. Charter schools are alternative public schools and as such are free and equally available to any child in the city; admission is randomly determined by lottery. Jersey City charter schools are state-approved and responsible for meeting the same standards – including performance on standardized tests – as regular public schools. Charter schools have more latitude in how they teach, however, and are therefore able to implement more innovative and community-relevant educational programming, keeping both teachers and students motivated and engaged.
When it was time for my oldest child to enter kindergarten, we applied to The Learning Community Charter School each year until we won the lottery. We have been rewarded with an excellent, progressive curriculum which teaches our children to be compassionate about and responsible for the world around them, while they simultaneously master academic skills in a rigorous yet practical, fun way; bright, dedicated, child-centered teachers; and a school community that is racially, culturally and socio-economically diverse. This heterogeneity is the often-unmet goal of public education, and has been shown to bolster educational success among the less advantaged.
While charter schools can only benefit the children and families of Jersey City, they are threatened by the insufficient and unfair funding they receive. Specifically, while charter schools are federally mandated to receive 90 percent of the funding that regular public schools receive, a funding formula approved by the state in 2007 has resulted in charter schools receiving much less (in some cases nearly half that of regular public schools). This severe under-funding has resulted in pay freezes and pay cuts that are a burden to school staff, and the potential closure of important school programs and resources.
In order to preserve a sound alternative to the largely failing public school system, one that is free, secular and available to all Jersey City residents, the funding formula must change. If you want charter schools to be available to your children, grandchildren, friends and neighbors, it is vital to support changing the funding formula from its current inequitable and unsustainable form. This can be accomplished by contacting your local and state representatives, and especially the governor’s office, to let them know you want fair funding for charter schools so that they are there when you, and those close to you, need them.
Parent of two children in JC charter school