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12-16-11 Breaking News today - Race to the Top lost...Charter School Resisted by parents
The Record - NJ misses out on Race to the Top education grant, report says..."New Jersey is not among the nine states that will share $500 million in grant money in a high profile competition intended to jumpstart improvements in often-overlooked early childhood programs, The Associated Press has learned.The winners to be announced Friday at the White House are California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington..."

Star Ledger - Highland Park resists opening of Hebrew-language charter school..."...as attempts are made to establish charter schools in the suburbs, a rising tide of opposition and resentment has begun to emerge. Charter schools are independently run but receive public funds, taking money away from traditional public schools...Even Gov. Chris Christie, an ardent supporter of charter schools, has said they are not needed in high-performing suburban districts...."

The Record - NJ misses out on Race to the Top education grant, report says

Friday December 16, 2011, 7:15 AM

WIRE AND STAFF REPORTS

NorthJersey.com....New Jersey is not among the nine states that will share $500 million in grant money in a high profile competition intended to jumpstart improvements in often-overlooked early childhood programs, The Associated Press has learned.

The winners to be announced Friday at the White House are California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington, according to an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the winners had not been officially announced.

The money to aid the nation’s youngest learners is part of the Obama administration’s cornerstone education initiative — Race to the Top — which has states competing for federal dollars to create programs that make schools more effective. Last year, it handed out $4 billion in such grants focused on K-12 education.

New Jersey planned to use Consumer Reports-style ratings of early childhood centers to improve programs for 75,000 low-income children. The $60 million the state hoped to receive would have been used outside the 31 cities that are already under court order to provide pre-school for 3- and 4-year-olds.

"Research is very compelling that high-quality early-childhood programs make a difference for kids, but especially for kids who come out of disadvantaged circumstances," Chris Cerf, New Jersey's acting education commissioner, said at the time.

The goal of this competition was to get more children from birth to age 5 ready for kindergarten. Thirty-five states along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico applied for the chance each to win between about $50 million to $100 million in prize money. The winnings are to go to build state-wide systems that affect all early learning programs, including child care, Head Start centers, and public or private preschools.

 Billions are spent annually in America on early education programs, but the quality and availability of those programs varies greatly. Roughly half of all 3-year-olds and about a quarter of 4-year-olds do not attend preschool, said Steve Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University.

 Kids who attend quality early education programs have been shown to do better in school, and later in life, spend less time in prison and make more money. But children from low-income families who start kindergarten without any schooling are estimated to walk in the door 18 months behind their peers — a gap extremely difficult to overcome.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius were to announce the winners at the White House. The two agencies jointly administered the competition. HHS oversees the federal Head Start program, which provides early education to nearly 1 million low-income children.

 

New Jersey lost its last bid for K-12 Race to the Top last year because of a clerical error. The ensuing dispute led to the dismissal of Education Commissioner Bret Schundler.

 

Justin Barra, spokesman for New Jersey’s Department of Education, has said that the state will pursue the early-learning plan even without the federal money, but it will take longer.

Star Ledger - Highland Park resists opening of Hebrew-language charter school

Published: Friday, December 16, 2011, 7:15 AM

By Star-Ledger StaffThe Star-Ledger

HIGHLAND PARK — Darcie Cimarusti is a stay-at-home mom with a small, thriving interior design business and four kids in Highland Park’s public schools.

Now, along with her daily routine of driving carpools and helping kids with homework, Cimarusti has a mission. She spends up to six hours a day working with a vigilant group of moms to block a charter high school specializing in Hebrew-language instruction from opening.

"It wasn’t my plan to become this involved, but the ramifications are enormous," said Cimarusti, who has 5-year-old twins, plus a 12- and a 16-year-old. "There’s nothing more important I could do for my children right now."

Many Highland Park parents oppose the proposed school, called Tikum Olam, because as a charter school, it could be entitled to some of the money that currently goes to 1,500-student district. Parents are proud of Highland Park High School, which boasts some of the highest standardized test scores in Middlesex County, and want nothing that would jeopardize its status.

In recent years, the charter school movement has taken off with little resistance from urban communities where the public schools are failing. But as attempts are made to establish charter schools in the suburbs, a rising tide of opposition and resentment has begun to emerge. Charter schools are independently run but receive public funds, taking money away from traditional public schools.

Residents of Cherry Hill, Millburn, Livingston and Princeton have also fought charters. Today, Cimarusti plans to cart a busload to Trenton for an "Occupy Department of Education" protest.

"I decided to be a stay-at home mom for a reason," she said.

"But it’s a tricky balancing act of not neglecting my family while trying to save their schools."

The first Tikun Olam application was filed in 2009 by Sharon Akman, a Highland Park parent and real estate agent. State officials turned down the school three times, but a fourth application is pending. A decision is expected next month.

Akman could not be reached for comment, despite repeated phone calls and visits to her home, but the latest application says Tikun Olam’s curriculum would bolster students’ cultural sensitivity.

"We’re a diverse population. It seemed like a need we had in the community," Akman said in October 2010.

If approved in January, Tikun Olam would open next September with 100 students in ninth and 10th grades, and expand to serve 200.

The most recent application says the majority of students would come from New Brunswick and Edison, but if too few enroll from those towns, the school could expand its boundaries to again include Highland Park, a Department of Education spokesman said.

That threat is what has motivated Highland Park to continue the battle.

"Our concern is if it’s approved, and the targeted population is not met in Edison or New Brunswick," said Highland Park Superintendent Frances Wood. "All three of our districts are opposing this charter … We’ve been the center of it because it began here."

New Brunswick Superintendent Richard Kaplan said his city, with large black and Latino populations, does not need a Hebrew-language charter school, and called the Tikun Olam application a "bold-faced lie."

Even Gov. Chris Christie, an ardent supporter of charter schools, has said they are not needed in high-performing suburban districts.

Critics say Tikun Olam’s founders have exaggerated educational offerings, fabricated community support and seek a publicly-funded alternative to private Jewish schooling that can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Former Edison Mayor Jun Choi, who was listed as a supporter on the third application, said in an e-mail that the school "misrepresented" his support of the school.

Rabbis from Congregation Poile Zedek of New Brunswick and Congregation Ahavas Achim of Highland Park — both identified in earlier applications as advocates — wrote to acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf in May with concerns.  

"Proponents of the Hebrew language charter school have carefully placed a fig leaf over their agenda of forcing the state to fund their ‘free’ alternative to private Jewish education," said Rabbi Steven Miodownik of Ahavas Achim.

Jon Drescher, a Lehigh University professor who is helping found Tikun Olam, said he was not aware of the opposition, but cited a "tremendous need" for alternatives to traditional public schools.

"It’s important that there be niche schools. We have Chinese, Japanese, French, and Spanish schools," said Drescher, who lives in New York. "Why not Hebrew?"

ACCOMMODATIONS

In its effort to hold off the school, Highland Park has bent over backward to offer programs and services the charter founders asked for, according to Wood, the superintendent.

Akman, who met with district officials several times, wanted Hebrew-language instruction, so the district advertised for months to find a credentialed Hebrew teacher. The master course schedule was rearranged around part-time Hebrew teacher Fay Minkowich, who also teaches at a nearby private Orthodox Jewish school, Wood said.

When Akman wanted the district to serve a kosher option for lunch, and join a state program known as inter-district public school choice, which would let students from other towns attend schools in Highland Park, the district did that, too.

"The district went above and beyond in trying to be inclusive," Wood said. "Supposedly they were not going to go forward … We don’t feel there’s a need for the charter school here."

Highland Park Mayor-elect Gary Minkoff said a Hebrew-language charter high school would harm both the public schools and local private Jewish day schools.

Minkoff said private school parents may "seek to alleviate the expense of traditional Jewish day schools" by sending children to the charter school for Hebrew instruction, and supplementing that with less-expensive religious instruction.

"Many leaders of Jewish day schools see charter schools as creating a significant systemic risk to their institutions," he wrote.

 


Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608
609-394-2828