As a former Newark Public School student and the parent of a child who is blessed to attend one of Newark’s charter schools, I can’t believe that some state legislators are trying to prevent charter schools from expanding to reach more kids. Parents in Newark and across New Jersey need to stand up against this bill, which threatens to cut off access to a great education for students across the state.
Everyone knows about the problems with Newark Public Schools. I attended Avon Avenue, which was one of the worst-performing schools in the city. When I graduated from West Side High School in 1990, I promised myself that I would never allow my children to attend a public school. At that time, there were few options for families who couldn’t afford tuition for private schools. But in the time since, many charter schools have opened in the city, giving families another choice of free public schools that provide hope for a better education and a better future.
My son Tanner enrolled in Marion P. Thomas Charter School’s pre-kindergarten program in 2013, when he was just 4 years old. Tanner has always been a bright kid, but the school’s innovative curriculum, hard work and the dedication of his teachers have developed him into a young leader already. This year, as a first-grader, he has given speeches for Sen. Robert Menendez at an event at Christian Love Baptist Church and the Rev. Al Sharpton at an event at New Hope Baptist Church. He is starting his own sock, tie and accessories company called Krazi Legz & Things, and by the time he enters college will have started several more companies. He says he will be the next black president.
Marion P. Thomas Charter School has played a huge role in helping me teach him how to become successful. He is not just learning book smarts. He’s learning confidence, to believe in himself and lead others.
About one in three students in Newark attends a free, public charter school. I wish every family in Newark had access to the options my family has had, but some lawmakers in Trenton now want to limit how many children can attend charter schools. They have introduced a new bill, A4351, that would force charter schools to stop growing beyond pre-approved levels. Charter schools want to serve more students, and parents like me want more options, but this bill would slam the doors shut and lock them for three years (and maybe more), leaving many of the city’s children stuck with no choice but to attend a public school that, if it’s anything like my public school was, is failing them.
Those of us whose children have benefited from access to a free, high-quality education in Newark are working hard to encourage parents to get involved in their children’s education, educate them about their options and break down the myths about charter schools. The last thing we need is for lawmakers in Trenton to put progress on hold and limit our freedom to choose the best school for our kids. What’s worse is that Assemblywoman Mila Jasey and Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan, the lawmakers who sponsored the bill and represent mostly white, affluent districts without any charter schools, are trying to pass legislation that makes it harder for mostly poor, black families to get their kids into good schools.
Access to a great education is everything. Without that, how can we expect to cut crime, fight poverty or get people off welfare and into high-paying jobs? How am I supposed to explain to my son that his best friend couldn’t have the same chances in life because lawmakers didn’t like the school he loves, a school that even at his young age is preparing him for great things?
Melissa Grant is the founder and CEO of Yvonne’s Hope 4 Change, a non-profit organization that provides transitional housing for homeless women. Her son Tanner is a student at Marion P. Thomas Charter School.