Christie signs bill to privatize some NJ schools

Friday, January 13, 2012

Gov. Chris Christie signed his first major education reform bill Thursday, which allows publicly funded private schools in three New Jersey cities.

The governor signed the Urban Hope Act into law at Lanning Square Elementary School in Camden, where Christie first unveiled the plan last June.

The law allows nonprofit companies to build and manage schools in three New Jersey cities including Camden.

The companies can apply to the state Department of Education and, if approved, could then build and operate so-called renaissance schools.

Renaissance schools are, in effect, private schools using public funds. Some are calling them charter schools with less red tape.

"The focus of renaissance schools will be around one thing: getting results in the classroom through greater freedom and flexibility to adapt to the unique needs of the students they are attempting to serve," said Christie.

Camden, Newark and Trenton could each have up to four of the private schools. The renaissance schools must be built in partnership with the school districts.

"The nonprofits have to have experience operating schools in low-achieving districts and commit to both building a new school and offering a rigorous academic program designed to prepare each student to be college- or career-ready," Christie said.

"This partnership creates a solution to the problems we have all articulated," said Camden Mayor Dana Redd. "I think it's time to stop articulating the problems. We need to talk about the solutions, and move forward those solutions that represent the interests of our people and certainly get the job done."

Rosa Rivera, a parent of two children at Lanning Square, says she's heard a lot of talk. She wants her kids to have a new school and hopes the governor's visit to Camden Thursday means it's coming.

"We have many promises. And here we go, 2012, and nothing has happened," she told Action News.

This is a pilot program. As with existing charter schools, there will be strict accountability. The state will be closely monitoring progress.

There are skeptics, with some questioning and expressing concern about the privatization of education in Camden.

The Democrat-controlled Legislature moved quickly on the bill even though it has been slow to act on Christie's other school overhaul plans.

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