‘It’s enough now’: Mayor Baraka calls for pause on new charter schools in Newark

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The big story

As charter schools have proliferated in Newark — they now enroll about one in three students— the big, unspoken question has always been: How many charters is enough?

On Thursday, Mayor Ras Baraka made his answer crystal clear: “It’s enough now.”

The charter sector’s rapid expansion has led to an exodus of students and funding from the district, resulting in school closures and staff reductions. In an interview with Chalkbeat on Thursday, Baraka said that if state funding remains flat and charters continue to grow, “it will suck the life out of traditional schools.”

Rather than wait for that to happen, he joined other charter skeptics — including the Newark and New Jersey teachers unions — in calling for a moratorium on new charters or the expansion of existing ones.

The catch, of course, is that Baraka has no control over the city’s charter schools. The state education department is the only entity that can approve or reject charter applications. So far, Gov. Phil Murphy’s new education chief has promised to review the state’s charter law — but he hasn’t agreed to a moratorium.

Read our full story about Baraka’s call for a charter-school freeze here. And look out for more coverage of my interview with the mayor next week.

What to watch

Important things happening around Newark schools.

  • Newark’s charter-school sector isn’t done growing, projections show.
    • What to know: Despite Baraka’s concerns, Newark charter schools are on track to serve thousands more students thanks to expansions that were approved under former Gov. Chris Christie.
    • Within five years, more than 40 percent of Newark students could be enrolled in charter schools, according to one estimate.
    • One big question: Will Newark’s charter operators find the space, leadership, and students they need to keep growing?
  • Lead poisoning and childhood poverty remain all too common in Newark, report finds.
    • Nearly a quarter of all tested Newark children under 6 years old have some harmful levels of lead in their blood, according to the 2018 Newark Kids Count report.
    • Meanwhile, over two-thirds of Newark children live in low-income households — compared to the state average of 31 percent, the report says.
    • One big question: Are Newark schools equipped to meet the needs of so many students who face health challenges and live in poverty?

Newark news

A roundup of the past week’s local education reporting.

Sale pending…

  • Two years after the city offloaded a dozen unused public school buildings, 11 are now under contract to be sold for a combined $14.4 million. NJ.com

Protests continue…

  • Thousands of protesters converged on Newark’s Military Park last Saturday as one of hundreds of student-led demonstrations across the country calling for an end to gun violence. TAPinto Newark

Question of the week

Send in your answers.

  • Did you send your child to a traditional public school or a charter? Why?

Next week I’ll be sharing stories from Newark families about why they chose their district or charter schools. If you’d like to share your story — or you know a parent or student who would — please let me know!

News from Trenton

Reporting on statewide education issues that matter for Newark.

Will he or won’t he…

  • Easing some advocates’ fears that Gov. Murphy would impose a moratorium on new charter schools, acting state education commissioner Lamont Repollet said he would consider new charter applications. NJ.com
  • In fact, the state education department under Murphy has already approved one new charter school but denied five requests by existing charter schools to expand. NJTV

Marching for charters…

  • Hundreds of charter-school parents gathered in Trenton on Monday where they met with elected officials and called for more charters. TAPinto Newark
  • Op-Ed: A Newark parent whose sons attended a charter high school said the state would be taking a “giant step backwards” if it limits parents’ access to charter schools. NJ.com

Promises, promises…

  • During his confirmation hearing this week, Repollet promised to “modernize” the state’s school-funding formula and improve its charter-school law. NJ Spotlight

Up for debate…

  • As state lawmakers dig into Murphy’s proposed budget, school funding — and how it’s distributed among districts — is shaping up to be a major point of contention. NJ Spotlight

School food…

  • The state legislature approved new measures that would expand the state’s school breakfast and summer-meals programs and track districts that aren’t fully participating. NJ Spotlight

Extra credit

Want to showcase your school or an upcoming education event? Send me photos and details.

Planning to attend the school-board candidates forum next Tuesday at 6 p.m.? Before you do, read about all 13 candidates here, courtesy of the Newark Trust for Education.