This article, written by Keith E. Benson, president of the Camden Education Association, describes a policy New Jersey imposed on residents of Camden that activists have been contesting globally - the wholesale giveaway of public schools to private interests.


As a Camden resident, educator, and parent of a child who has attended Camden public schools since pre-kindergarten — she's in tenth grade now — I know public schools are the heart of our communities. They are much more than places to learn reading, writing, and arithmetic. Our schools are places where neighborhood children build lifelong relationships. They're also community centers where parents and neighbors come together to help communities grow and find fellowship. Public schools are spaces where families invest time and hard-earned tax dollars, because schools hold our most precious commodity – our children and their future.


Camden public schools have been a symbol of pride, stability and hope for generations of Camden students and their families. Unfortunately, local and state politics are making it more difficult to serve our community's students as predatory legislation, policies, and politics continue to target our public schools for closure.


The Urban Hope Act of 2012 was a law passed several years ago that resulted in establishing CMO (charter management organization)-operated Renaissance schools in Camden. Despite their flowery title, Renaissance schools are more commonly referred to in other areas, and other states, as “managed takeover schools.”

Renaissance schools are like charter schools in many ways, except that Renaissance schools in Camden received most of their schools and students directly via the state-appointed District Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard. He simply gave away our district public school buildings, and their students, to Renaissance school providers,  well-known CMOs, like KIPP and UnCommon Schools. Since 2012, the number of Renaissance schools has expanded throughout the city as regulations on them have diminished – all at the expense of Camden’s public schools.


To add insult to injury, tax breaks given to the companies moving into Camden keep the big dollars going exclusively to the Renaissance schools. Meanwhile, the tax base our traditional schools depend upon is becoming nonexistent. This is no accident. It is a deliberate, sustained political attack on our system of public schools and our students.


In a political sleight of hand, NJ recently turned over 3,800 students along with their buildings, to Renaissance schools.  The parental demand for Renaissance schools is far below what lawmakers anticipated, while residents' demand and belief in their public schools continues to rise. Our local continues to work with parents and community to mobilize against this attack.

Photo: John Ziomek/Staff Photographer, USA Today