School Choice in the Hot Seat in New Jersey

By Amelia Hamilton Published on March 4, 2015

Governor Chris Christie is no stranger to controversy. In fact, he is famous for standing up to powerful unions like that of the teachers in his state of New Jersey. He now finds himself in the midst of another education battle.

At the center of this battle is Newark Schools’ Superintendent Cami Andersen and the “One Newark” plan she implemented. One Newark is a way for schools to work together to serve the students of the city by replacing school employees, implementing a district-wide lottery system, and supporting school choice by allowing charter schools to occupy space in public school buildings. Working together to serve the kids seems like a positive thing, but the entrenched politicians and union leaders don’t see it that way.

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka has repeatedly called for Andersen’s resignation, and has even sought the help of President Obama to have her removed from office. With the support of Governor Christie, Ruben Roberts of Newark Public Schools, and NJ Education Commissioner David Hespe, his attempts to have her removed have been to no avail. One group, NJ Communities United, helped to organize a demonstration in February in which eight local students camped out at Newark Public Schools’ administrative headquarters for four days to protest Andersen.

Last week, however, Andersen’s contract was renewed for another year, and the reaction has been swift. “I guess at this point I can’t be surprised. I’m very much disappointed,” Newark Public Schools advisory board member Donald Jackson told “I don’t know if it’s our commissioner who is not listening or our governor who refused to.” He went on to say that “We have to now take the fight to our state elected officials. Everybody has to get involved at this point.” To that end, they have headed to Washington to seek the help of the federal government.

County legislators and activists will join the city’s Chief Education Officer Lauren Wells, State Senator Ron Rice, and leaders from the NAACP on a trip to DC to meet with the Department of Education and Congressman Donald Payne, Jr. in an attempt to oust Andersen.

Christie’s education commissioner David Hespe isn’t backing down from One Newark.  “It will take time to see the type of progress we all want,” he told the Washington Post. “Whatever we’re doing, we need to double down.”

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