Camden Board Rejects Urban Hope Act School Proposals

Vote leaves next move uncertain for fledgling public-private initiative

By John Mooney

Camden’s surprise decision this week to block any new schools under the controversial Urban Hope Act has left local officials — and maybe even the Christie administration itself — with a difficult decision about what happens next in a drama that has become as much about politics as education.

The city school board late Tuesday night failed to approve any of four proposals that would add up to six new schools to the beleaguered district.

The proposals were the first test of the Urban Hope Act, enacted last year, which permits private organizations to build and manage public schools – called “renaissance schools” — in Camden and two other districts, Newark and Trenton.

With Camden the only district to participate so far, three of the proposals were rejected outright by unanimous votes of the nine-member board. But much of the attention centered on the fourth proposal, which fell a single vote short of a majority.

That plan for up to five new schools comes from a partnership led by the Cooper Foundation and its powerful backer, George Norcross III, chairman of Cooper Health System and a noted Democratic political leader in South Jersey.