Schools bill aimed at laying groundwork for economic improvement
Thursday, January 12, 2012
Andrew Kitchenman, NJBIZ
A bill Gov. Chris Christie is set to sign this afternoon not only will benefit students in struggling schools, it will lay the groundwork for improvements in the state’s economy, advocates said.
“There obviously are no magic bullets, and our kids need as many solutions as possible to help them get great opportunities — and this bill is one way to do that,” said Derrell Bradford, executive director of Better Education for Kids Inc., of the Urban Hope Act.
The bill will allow up to four new privately operated public schools in Camden, Trenton and Newark, to be called “renaissance schools.” These schools are defined as newly built schools or groups of schools with a common campus, in districts with persistently low test scores, that are operated and managed by a nonprofit for a school district.
The schools can be built on land owned by for-profit companies, and can hire for-profit businesses to handle all operations but instruction.
Bradford said the bill, along with Gov. Chris Christie’s proposals for tenure reform, charter school reform and opportunity scholarships, or vouchers, would have a major effect on businesses.
“It’s really important that people understand that this is the beginning of education reform,” Bradford said. His organization is focused on tenure reform.
Whether businesses are looking to recruit from other states or hire workers in New Jersey, “you need great schools,” he said.
Another advocate is Christy Davis Jackson, president and CEO of Excellent Education for Everyone, which has long advocated for vouchers.
“The number of failing schools — which ultimately speaks to the lack of proficiency in basic reading, writing and math skills — is not only a crisis in certain areas across the state and across this country,” she wrote in an e-mail. “These numbers should serve as a collective wake-up call to business leaders across the spectrum. Who are you training, hiring and retaining in your workplaces? This is a broader education reform question, of which the Urban Hope Act is one plank.”
Debra P. DiLorenzo, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey, is a strong supporter of the bill.
“We really believe that this provides a mechanism to change things,” DiLorenzo said of the possibility of renaissance schools. “We know that it’s not an easy fix to handle this complex policy issue, but it’s a meaningful step in the right direction.”
DiLorenzo also hoped that the rest of Christie’s education agenda advances.
“This is very important — not only in the governor’s legacy, but to get our state back to where it needs to be,” she said. “It’s an enormous mountain to climb.”
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