By now, I think that if you frequent JerseySmarts.com you know that from time to time I like to tell stories. I don’t know if I’m a good storyteller, but I think I get the job done well enough. For this entry, I’m going to just write a little bit about something that has been bothering me, but without going into too much detail about the origin of the angst.
Let’s see if I can do it!
Do you know people who blindly follow everything that the leaders of their chosen political party or political point of view say? You know – that friend of yours who never thinks that anything a Republican/Democrat (depends on your friend’s point of view) does is worth any good at all. These people bother me. Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of these brainwashed people from both sides of the aisle emerge over the national debt debate. There are conservative minded people who think that the government should stop spending money, period. There are liberal minded people who think that the debt ceiling should have no limit because they don’t think it matters. And then there are the vast majority of Americans who believe that something needs to be done that includes both spending cuts and getting rid of loopholes that allow the ultra wealthy to not pay their fair share in taxes.
In other words, there are people who understand that compromise is the right way to go and there are people who have a blind allegiance to whatever one political party says.
Those people with the blind allegiance frustrate me.
However, forget about the national debate over the debt limit for a moment. There’s an example much closer to home that frustrates me even more. Here in New Jersey we have a very healthy charter school system. For those of you who do not know what a charter school is – it’s a free, public school just like any other public school. There are two primary differences between a charter school and the traditional public school system. The first is that a charter school does not operate under the thumb of the local Board of Education. They’re independent and not beholden to the sometimes crazy local politics that shape local Boards of Education.
The second difference is funding. You know all of that money that you pay in property taxes? Well, that money is filtered through the system in New Jersey a “per pupil” amount is decided for each school district. Ideally, you should be able to track your property tax dollars throughout the system and ultimately say something like, “My 2010 property taxes paid for X students to be educated in the local school district.” Except for charter schools. Yes, they are funded through the same revenue stream as the regular school districts, except they only get 90% of the “per pupil” funding.
Two major differences – independent of the local school board and given less money in an attempt to do a better job at educating your students. Got it? Good!
If you’ve followed the charter school movement in New Jersey, then you know that they are admired by both Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike. In fact, Governor Chris Christie has ramped up many of the charter school programs that were supported or enacted under former Governor Jon Corzine. There has been a gradual increase in the amount of charter schools operating throughout the Garden State – I think we’re at 70 something schools now. And the most important note to mention about the charter schools operating in New Jersey is that, by and large, they are succeeding.
All you have to do is look at schools like TEAM Academy Charter School in Newark or Camden’s Promise Charter School in Camden or Hope Academy Charter School in Asbury Park and you’ll find students whose parents have rejected the local school districts and are now achieving levels of academic success never before thought possible in these districts. It’s happening, folks – and it’s real. There are a lot of people out there who try to marginalize the charter school movement and their arguments are pretty lame. One of the biggest arguments that I hear goes something like, “Charter schools are private schools! They take money from the public system for a private school!”
That’s totally ridiculous.
Charter schools are totally free, public schools that you can send your child to if you so choose. If there are not enough seats in the charter school to accommodate all of the applicants, then the school holds a public lottery to allocate the seats. It doesn’t get any fairer than that, people.
But what aggravates me the most and what drove me to write this entry is that many of today’s complainers about charter schools didn’t say a word a few years ago when Corzine was governor. Not a word. In fact, many of them lauded the great work that Corzine was doing to support quality charter schools throughout the state. And now we have a very strong, very well-liked Republican governor in a predominantly Democratic state and all of a sudden the supporters of charter schools have become detractors.
It’s sad. It’s pathetic. It’s blind political allegiance.
Mark my words – as soon as a Democrat becomes the governor of this state again, you won’t hear a single peep out of the hate groups that run around these days lambasting Governor Christie’s heroic efforts to support the charter school movement. Those with blind political allegiance will hoot and holler about how great the Democratic governor is and how he or she is fixing all of the problems that Governor Christie “created.”
And amid all of that rubbish there will be nearly no truth.
The truth is that charter schools have succeeded under Republican and Democratic governors alike. The truth is that charter schools have been given a tremendous amount of support under Republican and Democratic governors alike. And the truth is that this state’s politics are so wallowed in people with a fiercely blind political allegiance that those of us with independent voices must continue to shout to be heard above the chorus of blind hatred.
I wonder how long it can last. I wonder how long before someone takes these blind political zealots to task. For the sake of the future of this great state, I hope that day comes very, very soon.