HoLA gets approval for low-income lottery, first for NJ charter school

HOBOKEN – Students considered on the low-income spectrum are now twice as likely to gain admittance to the Hoboken Dual Language Charter School (HoLa) following approval from the Department of Education, the school announced Wednesday morning, Dec. 16.
Although the school says its low-income student population has grown since it first opened in 2010, a weighted lottery makes the enterprise explicit by doubling the qualifying chances for less well-off children like those in public housing.
“Already boasting a beautifully diverse student demographic that mirrors the city of Hoboken, HoLa wants to ensure that all families in Hoboken have equal access to its very successful dual language educational model,” said HoLa Board President, Barbara Martinez in a statement.
Martinez said this is the third time the charter school, which teaches students in both Spanish and English, has sought approval for the lottery.
In the past two years, the school made headlines after attempts by the Hoboken Board of Education to bar HoLa’s state-approved expansion to seventh and eighth grades.
Board members complained that the charter schools in Hoboken took too much money away from Hoboken’s public schools. Some blamed the state’s funding formula. Others made critical comments about the charter schools, including complaining that the schools didn’t attract a diverse enough population (however, Hoboken’s public schools also suffer from de facto segregation, with a higher minority population at the downtown Connors school than at the other elementary schools).
The lawsuit to block HoLa’s expansion, put forth by the “Kids First” board majority, split many in the community. Mayor Dawn Zimmer, who had endorsed the political group in past school board elections, did not endorse the suit. Two of her children formerly attended Elysian Charter School.
Last year on Dec. 10, the HoLa board unanimously authorized Martinez to apply for a weighted lottery for 2015-16. She submitted her application to the state on Dec. 23, requesting a determination by Dec. 31 which was not approved. Martinez told the Hoboken Reporter around the time of the decision that HoLa wanted to institute the lottery but could not because of the ongoing legal battle which ultimately failed, allowing the school to expand.
A letter from the Department of Education Commissioner David C. Hespe following HoLa’s subsequent Sept. 21, 2015 application (dated Dec. 1) says the charter school is now allowed “to establish admissions policies including weighted lotteries that favor educationally disadvantaged students in an effort to better represent a cross section of their school-age community population.”
HoLa typically has 22 available spots in Kindergarten every year and over 220 applicants for those spots.
The Reporter has previously published a piece gaining the expert opinion of City University of New York urban studies professor Molly Vollman Makris toward the perceived “segregation” of charter schools. In that April 2015 story (titled “Too much choice”) Makris reportedly encountered only a handful of HHA parents who had applied to HoLa or any other charter.
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