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New Jersey to Take Over Camden Schools

ChristieCamden_Blog.jpg

The 13,700-student Camden school district in New Jersey will be put under the state's control, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Associated Press report.

The state will have both academic and financial control of the district, which currently has a less-than-60 percent graduation rate and financial woes to match. Ninety percent of the district's schools' academic records place them in the bottom 5 percent of the schools statewide. The state will be responsible for selecting a new superintendent and leadership team for the district, and the Camden school board will be relegated to an advisory role.

Republican Gov. Chris Christie formally announced the takeover earlier today, the Inquirer reports, saying that not taking over the schools would be "immoral."

The district had been given eight months to turn around last year, and those eight months are up next week. The state is already a presence in the district: A state-run "Regional Achievement Center" oversees some particularly low-performing schools in Camden and a monitor oversees some spending decisions.

Camden will be the fourth district in New Jersey taken over by the state. Jersey City has been under the state's control since 1989, Newark since 1995, and Paterson since 1991.

This is the first time that Christie has initiated a takeover, however. Christie will be up for re-election this fall. Democrats in the state's legislature supported the move. The New Jersey Education Authority and other advocates for public schools oppose the move, saying that Christie has thrown his support to charter schools rather than appropriately funding the district's schools.

The Education Law Center in New Jersey protested Christie's education agenda last summer, my colleague Andrew Ujifusa reported. The organization was wary of the Broad Foundation's support for state intervention in local school districts.

The other three districts run by the state in New Jersey have shown that state takeovers are no recipe for easy, quick success. The school board in Newark has recently been fighting to regain autonomy from the state.

Here's a New York Times summary of the results of a few takeovers in other states—including Pennsylvania's takeover of Camden's neighbor, Philadelphia.

Digging into the archives for some context, here's an Education Week story from 1989, when New Jersey's state government announced it would take over the school district in Jersey City; another story from 1991 on the takeover of the school district in Paterson; and a third on Newark.

Camden's beleaguered schools are not the only government agency leaving local control: Police in Camden are being provided by a new county agency rather than the city.

Photo: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is flanked by New Jersey Education Commissioner Chris Cerf, left, and Camden Mayor Dana Redd as he addresses the media at press conference at Woodrow Wilson High School in Camden, N.J., on Monday. The state of New Jersey moved Monday to take over the school district in the city of Camden, where Gov. Chris Christie said "the system is broken," allowing thousands of students to fail year after year. (John Ziomek/Camden Courier-Post/AP)

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