Senate passes Urban Hope Act over Rice objection

TRENTON – The Senate today passed S-3173, the so-called Urban Hope Act, sponsored by state Sen. Donald Norcross (D-5). 

The charter school pilot bill designates three failing school districts – in Trenton, Camden and Newark – as renaissance school districts. The bill enables one or more nonprofit entities to apply to the state to supplant the existing non-performing schools with a total of four K-12 schools.

The final vote was 34-3. 

“It’s permissive and not mandatory, secondly, and most importantly, this bill gives local control and input into this bill, and that local control is binding,” said state Sen. Nia Gill (D-34).

State Sen. Ronald L. Rice (D-28) didn’t agree. 

“Amend this legislation to take the City of Newark out,” said Rice. “We can always put Newark in later.”

Unlike Gill, Rice said he does not believe there is sufficient accountability in the bill as it relates to the Brick City.  

“My issue is local control,” said the Newark senator. “The difference is local control should be for everybody. Newark doesn’t have local control. You’re saying you want local control for everybody, but the City of Newark. …Until we get local control, Newark should not be held hostage at the whim of the legislature here.”

Rice called the bill “taxation without representation” for Newarkers.

State Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz (D-29) acknowledged that 16 years is too long for state control, but said the bill includes language to engage the community.

State Sen. Bob Singer (R-30) said he would vote for the bill.

“Lakewood – 37% graduation rate,” he said. “It’s embarrassing to say my home community has a failing graduation rate. I absolutely endorse this. I hope it’s successful and spreads to every community in the state.”

State Sen. Jim Whelan (D-2) said he would vote for the bill based on the promise of an examination of creating more student time on task.

“My belief is we’ve got to change the conversation,” said the Atlantic City senator, agreeing with points made by state Sen. Dick Codey (D-27) and state Sen. Joe Vitale (D-19). “We’ve got to start talking about a longer school year.”

“Ninety-percent of our districts are great and we’re chronically failing in the other ten,” said state Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-20). “We’re stuck in the quicksand because we don’t want to try new methods.”

Senate passes Urban Hope Act over Rice objection