Friday, July 15, 2011

Backlash Against NJ's Charter School Expansion

A major backlash has erupted against NJ Governor Chris Christie's aggressive charter school expansion program. Driven by a suburban grassroots resistance, the backlash has taken the form of a bill that would require a community vote before any charter school could open in any district. Currently, charter school proposals need only be approved by the state Department of Education. Recently, the Christie administration approved 23 of them.

NJ Star-Ledger columnist Bob Braun covered this emerging development. In Parents push for laws allowing communities to vote on charter schools
, Braun writes:

On the polished floor of the community center in Millburn’s Taylor Park, a small group of children sat quietly, hands folded, as their mothers chanted:

"What do we want? A vote! When do we want it? Now!" while an assortment of politicians pledged obeisance to what these parents demanded: An end to the unchecked growth of charter schools.

The scene was repeated elsewhere last night, in South Brunswick and Highland Park, where this mothers’ crusade known as Save Our Schools-New Jersey pushed for the passage of laws allowing local communities a vote on permitting charter schools and subjecting the privately operated schools to strict accountability.

The legislation may not survive the opposition of Gov. Chris Christie and Democratic leaders — including Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Camden) but the message has found traction.

"The bills may be bottled up, they may be blocked,’’ said state Sen. and former Acting Gov. Richard Codey (D-Essex), who attended the Milburn rally, "but the state’s leaders cannot ignore this message. These people are angry. They can’t be ignored.’’

They’re angry, and they want it now! What do they want now? To “check” the growth of educational alternatives sought by other mothers unsatisfied with the public schools in their districts. What’s actually going on here? This bill is a double-barreled attempt to crush charters. First, vote them down. If that fails, suffocate their innovative appeal by switching “accountability” from the charter parents to the school board or some other dictatorial committee.

I’ve left some comments, which triggered a short comment thread
, republished here with some added unpublished commentary, shown in italics:

Zemack - June 23, 2011 at 3:54PM

This bill should be entitled the Empower the Mob bill.

The charter school movement is driven by pent-up market demand – i.e., the desire of thousands of individual parents to seek a better education for their children. They are taxpayers, too. If the schools paid for by the taxes they are forced to pay don’t measure up in their judgement, who has a right to stand in their way? This bill says; that mystical entity called the “community”, as represented by any ballot box majority that decides protecting “its schools” requires crushing the rights of the minority.

But this is the nature of tax-supported schools, of democracy, of collectivism. When everyone is required to pay for the education of everyone else’s children, but not their own, they give up the sovereignty over their own children. Then, children become political pawns, with their education delivered into the power of special interests - grass roots, organized, or otherwise.

We are seeing a good demonstration of the naked face of democracy in action; mob rule.

saveourschoolsnj - June 23, 2011 at 4:13PM

"Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." (Churchill, from a House of Commons speech on Nov. 11, 1947)

Zemack - June 23, 2011 at 4:43PM

But what was Churchill referring to? In essence, a constitutional republic. A democratic majority is only legitimate when its power is limited by a constitution that protects individual rights. Today, America has morphed into a combination of a republic and a democracy.

Democracy is a form of totalitarianism, in its pure form. This charter vote bill is a manifestation of pure democracy, in that it places the parents and their children at the mercy of a legalized mob. Charter schools are not a panacea, but they make a bad situation – government-run schools – a little more tolerable by offering some choice and innovation.

luvsewemore - June 23, 2011 at 5:01PM

So it is your considered opinion that a handful of parents and private investors should be able to use public funds to open a Mandarin Chinese immersion school in a district that is rated 14th in the state? Just because they WANT this for their children? Tell me with a straight face that the parents in Milburn and Livingston are so disturbed by the horrible quality of their public schools that there are thousands crying out for alternatives for their children.

Zemack - June 23, 2011 at 7:10PM

And others should be able to stop them, just because they WANT to?

No. It is my considered opinion that no one should be educated with public funds. But since that’s the situation we have, it must be remembered that the “handful of parents and private investors” are tax payers too, and thus have as much claim to those “public funds” as you or any other taxpayer, no matter how large a group. Therefor, if a group of “investors” wants to establish a “Mandarin Chinese immersion school” and some parents are willing to voluntarily send their children there, then the public funds should follow. If a parent chooses to relieve the traditional public school in her child’s district of the responsibility to educate that child, on what grounds can that school claim the public funds – which belong as much to that parent as to any other?

That there are thousands of parents in Milburn and Livingston (or any other municipality) who are satisfied with their local public schools does not justify them legally (i.e., forcibly) being empowered to stand in the way of the small number that isn’t (to say nothing of the non-parent voters). Even the “best” schools will fail some students. I consider this to be a fundamental moral issue.

Publicly funded ventures always set up irreconcilable conflicts of interest – conflicts that would not arise in a fully free, private education market. That’s not what we have, so one alternative is for the state to allow whatever numbers of charters are necessary to meet the demand.

By the way, true “investors” invest their own money, not public funds.

URnoexpert - June 23, 2011 at 8:44PM

"And others should be able to stop them, just because they WANT to?"

No. It is because the removal of those funds could be detremental to a successful district. If someone wants to build a boutique school to cater to a small minority they should do it on their own dime, rather than the parasitic way charters aim to feed off the host. Want to learn a foreign language not offerred? Buy Rosetta Stone and leave the successful school districts alone.

Zemack - June 30, 2011 at 5:18PM

Nor should the "successful district" parasitically feed off of the taxes of the minority. There is an old saying: "Never lose sight of the forest for the trees". But the oppoisite is also true. Collectvism blinds you to the individual human beings that make up any group. Again, my arguments have not been refuted, because collectivist slogans will not do.

And on whose judgement are those districts “successful” – your “experts”? And on what basis do the experts draw their conclusions – some average drawn from standardized testing? The mental corruption wrought by collectivism is obvious here. Every student is an autonomous individual apart from that mythical average student. The enemies of school choice ignore those actual human beings. What if a district is detrimental to some students? No district is successful for a student whose needs his parents believe are not being met. And those parents’ judgement on that district is just as valid as any majority of parents who believe otherwise. And again, they’re taxpayers.

Aggalapta - June 28, 2011 at 9:17PM


Give me a break and knock off the drama--mob rule--please...its called democracy--something very foreign to republicans for some time now.

Zemack - June 30, 2011 at 5:02PM

Be careful what assumptions you make: I am not a Republican (most of whom also preach the "democracy" line). And don't worry about the "drama". Words have specific meanings. If you can refute my "mob" analogy, I'd like to hear it.

1 comment:

Michael said...

yes let him attempt to refute it. Otherwise he's talking nonsense. Oh and the churchill quote doesn't the change the fundamental nature of democracy either. So far no refutation has been made.