TRENTON – The parents of three Camden public school students filed a petition Monday asking the state Department of Education to immediately transfer their children to higher-performing schools at state expense, arguing that Camden had failed to meet New Jersey’s constitutional requirement of providing a “thorough and efficient” education.
The petition was filed in the hope of eventually getting educational “relief” for most of Camden’s 15,000 students, who are attempting to learn in some of the worst schools in the state, Patricia Bombelyn, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said Monday.
The parents, their attorneys, and advocates for charter schools and voucher programs have asked the state to use the roughly $22,000 per pupil it spends in Camden to fund the children’s education at better-performing schools, whether private schools in the district or public schools elsewhere.
Acknowledging that it would be a “difficult task” to find new seats for all 15,000 students, Bombelyn said one solution would be to increase the number of alternative public schools in Camden.
Among the groups backing the petition are the Black Ministers’ Council of New Jersey, the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey, and the pro-charter Excellent Education for Everyone (E3). All have lobbied state legislators for passage of the Opportunity Scholarship Act.
That act would give tax breaks to companies that provide scholarships for students in failing districts to attend school elsewhere. It was passed over in favor of the Urban Hope Act, which could put nearly 40 percent of Camden’s public school children into privately run Renaissance schools.
“This is a way to let them know that the Opportunity Scholarship Act should have been passed,” said Angel Cordero, South Jersey coordinator for E3.
“We can’t wait any longer while the school district and board get their act together,” Cordero said. The board last month rejected the first four Renaissance school proposals in Camden.
The petitioners cited state-compiled data that found 23 of Camden’s 26 schools to be among the 75 worst-performing public schools in New Jersey. Four of the 23 failed to make adequate progress for three consecutive years and had their principals replaced.
“We believe that the situation in Camden City schools is so dire that [the petitioners'] children are entitled to emergency relief at the beginning of the case and not to wait until the end,” attorney Julio Gomez said at a news conference.