As most residents of our town know, the charter school topic is a hot one. Charters are public institutions, but the way they are funded in New Jersey causes division among pro- and anti-charter citizens. Funding needs to be fixed at the state level, but that’s a complicated topic for a separate opinion letter.
In September 2016 the Franklin Township Board of Education (BOE) voted to ban charter school children from participating in district sports. This decision by the Franklin BOE was made despite an overwhelming turnout from parents opposing the ban. The majority of the board felt that charters should provide their own athletics programs. Since the charters obviously have no athletics program in place and not enough students to form their own teams, only one thing happened: students suffered.
Yes, I know that the BOE offered to consider allowing charter students to participate in athletics at a cost. I also know that a per-student number was given to the charters, one that the charters felt was unacceptably high. While the two authorities go back and forth on the issue only one thing actually gets accomplished: students suffer.
Now, three years after the ban, we are starting to see those charter students, who were freshman at the time, are suffering again. Colleges, universities, and especially military academies are scrutinizing every detail of their academic and extracurricular records. What area is lacking? Athletics. Varsity letters, being the captain of a team, earning an MVP award, and other rewards of playing sports were taken away by the BOE in September of 2016. Regardless of anyone’s stance on the issue, charter students are suffering.
And what has the ban accomplished? Despite the offer of many charter parents, there was no collaboration with district administration and the BOE to petition the state to change their funding policies. There was no significant money saved by district schools as a result of the ban. There was no agreement made about a monetary number charters could pay per-student to play sports. No matter where the blame falls, no matter who dropped the ball, no matter if the ban was the right thing to enforce or not, the only thing that really happened was that students suffered.
I expect the debate about charters vs. district schools will continue in its usual fierce manner. Regardless, I’ll put an offer out there again: I am willing, along with any BOE member who will join me, to petition our elected officials and the state to review charter funding issues so that no student (whether that student is charter or district) will have to suffer in the future. In the meantime, I will go on supporting charters as well as our district schools by continuing to attend their championship basketball tournaments, excellent sports games, outstanding theater performances, and as many fundraisers as possible.
I love this town and I love all of its students.