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9-28-12 Education Issues in the News

USDOE Release - Department of Education Announces Grants Totaling More Than $14.4 Million to Charter School Management Organizations

Thursday, 27 September 2012 16:48 Press Release Schools


Washington, DC--(ENEWSPF)--September 27, 2012. The U.S. Department of Education announced grants totaling more than $14.4 million to support high-quality charter schools in more than 25 communities across the country. As a result of today’s grants, an additional 20,000 students in schools in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and the District of Columbia, will have access to a quality education in charter schools.

Through this funding, Democracy Prep Public Schools will receive more than $4.1 million for the first two years of a five-year grant, and the KIPP Foundation will receive more than $10.3 million for the first two years of a four-year grant. Both organizations will be able to continue and expand their work in schools that have demonstrated success in improving education outcomes for students.

“High-quality charter schools across the country are making tremendous differences in our children’s lives, particularly children from low-income families,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said. “These grants will provide high-quality K-12 educational opportunities to students, preparing them for success in college and careers.”

These charter management organizations have proven records of success in increasing student academic achievement, closing achievement gaps, and achieving results for low-income and other educationally disadvantaged students. They currently serve populations with 85 percent or more students qualifying for free and reduced lunch. Democracy Prep will open or expand 15 schools over the next five years, which will enable nearly 4,000 additional students in New York and New Jersey to receive a quality education. The KIPP Foundation will open or expand 36 schools in 25 different cities around the country over the next four years. An additional 16,000 students will benefit from the expansion. During its five-year grant period, Democracy Prep could receive more than $9.1 million, and over its four-year grant period, the KIPP Foundation could receive more than $22.7 million, contingent upon Congressional appropriations.

The Administration will invest more than $255 million this year to assist in the planning and implementation of public charter schools and dissemination of their successful practices through the Charter Schools Grants Program. The purpose of the program is to increase financial support for the startup and expansion of these public schools, build a better national understanding of the public charter school model, and increase the number of high-quality public charter schools across the nation. More information about the Charter Schools Program is available from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement here.

Source: ed.gov


NJ Spotlight - Camden Board Rejects Urban Hope Act School Proposals....Vote leaves next move uncertain for fledgling public-private initiative

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By John Mooney, September 28, 2012 in Education|1 Comment

Camden’s surprise decision this week to block any new schools under the controversial Urban Hope Act has left local officials -- and maybe even the Christie administration itself -- with a difficult decision about what happens next in a drama that has become as much about politics as education.

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The city school board late Tuesday night failed to approve any of four proposals that would add up to six new schools to the beleaguered district.

The proposals were the first test of the Urban Hope Act, enacted last year, which permits private organizations to build and manage public schools – called “renaissance schools” -- in Camden and two other districts, Newark and Trenton.

With Camden the only district to participate so far, three of the proposals were rejected outright by unanimous votes of the nine-member board. But much of the attention centered on the fourth proposal, which fell a single vote short of a majority.

That plan for up to five new schools comes from a partnership led by the Cooper Foundation and its powerful backer, George Norcross III, chairman of Cooper Health System and a noted Democratic political leader in South Jersey.

The schools would be run by the KIPP charter school network, among the nation’s largest charter operators and already a long-time presence in Newark, with five charter schools there.

The Cooper/KIPP plan was the clear frontrunner of the four and got favorable reviews in an evaluation by a subcommittee of the Camden board. The proposal earned more than 70 percent of the maximum score, according to the scoring summary released by the district, while none of the other three topped 50 percent..

But that was not enough for the board to advance the proposal, ending with a 4-4 vote, with one abstention. The board’s support is required before the proposal can be passed on to state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf for final approval.

Opponents expressed concern about the impact of the plan on the district, with five new schools funded by the district but operating independently, much like charter schools.

The KIPP/Cooper plan calls for starting with one elementary school. It would eventually include five schools, including a high school, with a total of 3,000 students.

The first school would be in Lanning Square, next to Cooper University Medical Center, on the site of former district elementary school. That school was demolished and set for replacement by the state’s Schools Development Authority, but the project never proceeded..

A day after the Camden board’s vote, community activists and local and state officials were either unsure or not talking about what might happen next. Some in Camden wondered if the board might reconsider a revised proposal.

“I was shocked,” said Moneke Ragsdale, a leading activist who had raised many of the concerns. “They spent the whole summer on this, making the RFP (request for proposal), reviewing them, and then this happens. Maybe they felt like they were being pressured.”

Ragsdale said it may be an opportunity to jumpstart the district’s own hopes for Lanning Square School, but she also said she wouldn’t be surprised if there was some movement on the board to reconsider the Cooper/KIPP proposal.

“Mr. Norcross doesn’t like the word ‘no,’ ” she said of the political leader.

Norcross wasn’t commenting yesterday, after the president of the Cooper Foundation, Susan Bass Levin, said the day before that they were disappointed but would keep working to get the proposal passed.

Much may depend on the Christie administration. The state has played a significant role in Camden schools for more than a decade, with the pressure only stepping up under this administration.

Under Cerf, the state Department of Education has this fall set up a new satellite Regional Achievement Center in the district to work with as many as two dozen public schools that are among the lowest performing in the state. The state already has a fiscal monitor overseeing the district’s budget and personnel decisions.

In a sternly worded letter to the district this summer, Cerf said a number of recommendations would need to be followed by the district if it was to avoid even stronger intervention, including the possibility of state takeover.

The recommendations included advancement of one of the Urban Hope Act plans, as well as close cooperation with the new regional centers and a national search for a new superintendent, a process that has barely begun.

Cerf would not comment yesterday on the local board’s actions. His spokesman, Barbara Morgan, stuck with a statement issued after the vote.

“This legislation was passed with the intent of providing additional high-quality educational options for these communities, and it is our hope and expectation that the Camden school board will continue to examine the proposals that come before its members through this process and not miss this critical opportunity for students,” he said.

Star Ledger - NJ STARS program slashes scholarships for transfers to 4-year state schools

Published: Friday, September 28, 2012, 8:10 AM Updated: Friday, September 28, 2012, 8:10 AM

By Kelly Heyboer/ The Star-LedgerThe Star-Ledger

Dayton Pierce believes he may have found the best deal in higher education.

When his father lost his job two years ago, Pierce said he was forced to leave Ramapo College of New Jersey after his freshman year because his family could no longer afford the tuition. So the accounting major took advantage of the NJ STARS state scholarship program, which gives top New Jersey students free tuition to county college.

"Without the STARS program, I don’t know what I’d be doing, but I wouldn’t be in college," said Pierce, 21, who is completing his second year at Bergen Community College and plans to transfer to a four-year school. "It’s been the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me."

But starting this fall, New Jersey’s most popular merit scholarship program is undergoing some major changes, including new rules that will decrease awards for some students.

For the first time, students will have the option of using their state-sponsored scholarship to transfer to a private four-year college under the portion of the program called NJ STARS II. But the size of the top NJ STARS II scholarships have been slashed from $7,000 to $2,500 a year.

Though students will be eligible for less money, NJ STARS administrators say the changes will help keep the program alive in an era of state budget cuts.

"The reaction we’ve had is positive in that people like to know there is some stability and predictability," said Gabrielle Charette, executive director of the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority, the state agency that administers NJ STARS.

Under the revamped program:

New Jersey high school students who graduate in the top 15 percent of their class will continue to be eligible for free, full-time tuition at their county college for up to five semesters. Students will still have to apply for financial aid or use their own money to pay student fees, which usually range from $600 to $900 a year at the two-year colleges.

Once NJ STARS students graduate from county colleges, they will still be eligible to transfer to a four-year college to finish the final two years of their bachelor’s degrees under the NJ STARS II program. But they will only be eligible for a $2,500 annual state scholarship, significantly less than the $7,000 they were eligible for last year.

For the first time, NJ STARS II students have the option of transferring to one of New Jersey’s four-year private colleges to finish their degrees. The program had previously been limited to the state’s public colleges and universities.

Several of New Jersey’s private colleges are taking advantage of the changes in the NJ STARS program to court transfer students from the county colleges. Starting this fall, Seton Hall University in South Orange is offering to match the state’s $2,500 NJ STARS II scholarship with another $2,500 university grant for students who want to finish their bachelor’s degrees at the Catholic university.

Student reaction to the changes has been mixed. Pierce, the NJ STARS student at Bergen Community College, said he is disappointed he is only eligible for a $2,500 NJ STARS II scholarship, instead of the $7,000 he was expecting. But he is grateful the program is continuing.

"Getting $2,500 is better than getting nothing," Pierce said.

The changes were made by the Legislature in a bill passed this year that was designed to help eliminate some of the annual worry surrounding the program’s future. Over the past few years, students have had to wait until the state budget passed in June to see if they were still getting their NJ STARS scholarships for the fall semester.

"The toughest part of the last couple of years has
been the uncertainty," said Lawrence Nespoli, president of the New Jersey Council
of County Colleges.

NJ STARS, or the New Jersey Student Tuition Assistance Reward Scholarship, was introduced in 2004 with the promise that students who graduated in the top 20 percent of their high school class could go to county college for free. Two years later, the NJ STARS II program was added to give students additional scholarships to transfer to four-year state colleges.

Because students are eligible for the program as long as their families earn less than $250,000 a year, NJ STARS had been hailed — and criticized — for being one of the few state financial aid programs to help middle- and upper-class families reduce the cost of college.

Over the years, state funding woes helped shrink NJ STARS. In 2008, the state law was changed so only students who graduate in the top 15 percent, instead of the top 20 percent, were eligible.

Last year, about 3,800 students were enrolled in NJ STARS, down from more than 5,000 a few years ago, state officials said. County college advocates hope the program’s new-found stability will encourage more students to take advantage of the scholarships.

"Our expectation is to see those numbers track back up to what they were," Nespoli said.

For more information about NJ STARS, contact the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority at hesaa.org or
(800) 792-8670

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160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608