Fresh off the heels of another charter school lottery for students who hope to attend Hoboken’s charter schools, approximately 20 people joined the Hoboken Republican Club on a snowy Wednesday evening to discuss the first ever National School Choice Week.
Although locally sponsored by the Hoboken Republicans, National School Choice Week is a non-partisan effort, according to Nathan Brinkman, a co-founder of the political club. The week-long event advocates offering more schooling options for families.
“There are two types of schools: Ones that you want to send your kids to and ones you don’t.” – Derrell Bradford
“Who knows the needs of their own child better than their parent?” Brinkman said. “Let the parent choose where their child should attend school. We want a sound return on our educational dollar.”
Is Hoboken a problem area?
Although the event was held in Hoboken, much of the focus featured conversations about neighboring towns, including Jersey City and Newark. In Jersey City, one out of every four children are in a failing school, and in Newark, the percentage increases to one out of every two students, according to Derrell Bradford of Excellent Education for Everyone (E3), a non-profit organization devoted to improving urban public education through the powers of parental school choice.
“E3’s mission is to use public policy means to get kids from schools that don’t work to schools that do work,” Bradford said. “The best way to engage parents is to give them a choice of where to send their children to school.”
E3 is currently pushing for what Bradford calls “a way to give students a way out” of failing schools.
“There are two types of schools,” Bradford said. “Ones that you want to send your kids to, and ones you don’t.”
Board member Maureen Sullivan, who is often praised by the Hoboken Republican Club for being “the lone voice of dissent” on the school board, attended the event on Jan. 26.
In introducing Sullivan, Brinkman called her “our bright light on the school board.”
“We already have a lot of choices in Hoboken,” Sullivan said, stating that the problem of lack of choice is not as crucial in Hoboken as in other towns. “Hoboken is very forward looking, but a lot of towns fight charter schools like it’s the end of the world.”
Hoboken contains three charter schools in addition to the regular public schools and several private schools.
Some parents recently found out whether their children would be attending the charter schools after getting their lottery results. Sullivan said she doesn’t see the charter lottery system as a problem, but rather as a challenge for the Board of Education to improve. However, she said she is in favor of choice of schools.
“I would never say you can’t go to a specific school,” Sullivan said. “I don’t want to play God.”
Board of Education member Theresa Minutillo, who did not attend the event, said she believes choice is important for parents, but does not see a problem in Hoboken.
“However, I represent the Hoboken public school district as a trustee, and that’s what I support, and that’s what I’m an advocate of,” she said.
Kathy Zucker, a Hoboken mom who runs a blog about being a Hoboken mom, wrote about her four year old daughter being shut out of Hoboken charter schools. Zucker does believe that Hoboken offers enough options for education.
“You’ve got public, private, and charter,” she said. “Public and charter are free, and private for the most part is not that expensive.”
Zucker says because of the wealth of options in Hoboken, she was able to have Hoboken Catholic as a backup.
“We’re really happy at Hoboken Catholic,” she said. “I feel so fortunate that we were able to get a spot there when things went south with the charter school.”
However, Zucker says enrollment has risen in Hoboken since her daughter entered Pre-K.
She fears a population increase is on the horizon in Hoboken, and worries about the impact more families choosing to stay will have on certain popular schools.
“A lot of people are worried they’ll start getting shut out,” she said.
Though comparatively, Hoboken has more options, Zucker does advocate for more charter schools in the city.
Charter schools are public schools, and are partially funded by the Board of Education, but do not have to follow the same guidelines as public schools.
New Jersey currently ranks 20th in the number of charter schools with 66, according to National School Choice Week. Hoboken has three charter schools, including one that opened this past year, HoLa.
Currently, 40 out of 50 states operate with charter schools. New Jersey has 19,726 students enrolled in charter schools.
Do you think Hoboken needs more choices for education? Comment and vote in our poll at HudsonReporter.com.
Ray Smith may be reached at RSmith@hudsonreporter.com