Guest post by Julia Sass Rubin.
Last week, while many of us were busy making plans for the summer, something much more sinister was happening in the halls of the State Capital in Trenton, N. J..
At 11 p.m., on Tuesday, June 24th, legislation was discussed and voted on by the New Jersey Senate and Assembly Budget Committees, without all the legislators understanding what they were approving. "We didn't have the bills in advance," complained one of the Senators, "I didn't know what the hell the bills were." This legislation was then quickly pushed through the full New Jersey Senate and Assembly.
The legislation revised a 2012 law known as Urban Hope in order to enable two charter chains - Mastery and Uncommon Schools - to claim a large share of Camden's public education dollars. The charters' efforts had been imperiled by the grassroots group Save Our Schools NJ, which had sent a series of letters in May to New Jersey Education Commissioner David Hespe. The letters detailed how the two charter chains and the Camden state-appointed Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard were violating various aspects of the Urban Hope law in their efforts to open new renaissance charter schools in Camden next fall. The violations included using temporary facilities instead of building new schools; failing to provide key information required by the application; and not giving Camden residents the opportunity to review and comment on their applications.
Rather than stopping their illegal activities in response to the letters, the Mastery and Uncommon charter chains and the Camden Superintendent turned to their friends in the legislature to "fix" the problem by amending the Urban Hope legislation so that what had been illegal could now be legal.
Mastery and Uncommon also retroactively provided some of the information that had been missing from their renaissance charter applications, although they still did not make this information Charters School Networks and Shady Political Dealings: The Camden, N. J. Story - Living in Dialogue - Education Week Teacher: