The striking success of urban charter schools, especially in Newark and Camden, is beyond any reasonable doubt and may be remembered as Gov. Chris Christie's most important win.
The charter movement in both cities is on fire, thanks to the expansion of the most successful chains, like TEAM and North Star.
Their students do much better on reading and math tests than those in conventional schools, and they are far more likely to graduate and attend college. More than 90 percent of the students in both chains are African-American, and nearly 90 percent qualify for free or discounted lunches. And they do all this with less money.
Not surprisingly, parents who are given the choice are selecting charters in a landslide. And why wouldn't they? An authoritative study from Stanford University rated Newark's charters as among the nation's best.
So it is breathtaking that Christie is now proposing a radical school-funding plan that amounts to a poison dart aimed directly at the heart of the charter movement.
Christie's plan would reverse nearly a half-century of efforts to give poor children in New Jersey an equal shot at a good education. He sees the entire project as an expensive failure, sweeping aside data showing that New Jersey's disadvantaged kids outperform their counterparts in every state except Massachusetts.
Under Christie "reform" a kid in Camden would get the same school aid as a kid in the wealthiest suburb, $6,600 per child. He would ignore a town's ability to pay, and the deeper needs of poor kids.
What would that mean in cities like Newark and Camden? Newark would lose nearly two-thirds of its state aid, and Camden would lose about three-quarters.
Massive teacher layoffs and program cuts would be inevitable. Watch for dropout rates to skyrocket.
Christie says that, somehow, he'll protect charter schools from this storm.
For starters, that is a perverse idea. Most children in both cities attend district schools. How could the governor justify throwing them overboard, but not the charter students? And what happened to the core idea that all kids get equal aid?
Even those in the charter school movement hate the idea. In both cities, they are trying to build bridges with district schools to calm fears about their expansion. And they know preferential treatment would risk creating a furious backlash.
"It would be saying that some schools are more important than others," says Muhammed Akil, head of PC2E, an organization that promotes charter schools in Newark. "Even charter school leaders reject that idea."
This plan would be a disaster if it had a good chance of becoming law. For the last seven years, it has been the pet project of a few far-right legislators who have been unable to win recruits, even among fellow Republicans.
Note, too, that not a single education reform group has endorsed this, nor has any organization representing teachers, principals, superintendents, or school boards.
The fact that charter schools are not showing a scrap of support, even with Christie's promise of protection, is particularly telling. This plan presents a clear and present threat to them as well.