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Princeton and its Charter School dilemma

Outside of our campus, the education of this town’s children is at stake. Toward the end of last year, Princeton Charter School requested that the state expand its class size by 76 students — draining $1.2 million per year from the Princeton Public School district in the process. In retaliation, PPS sued the Charter School in early January, claiming that the new financial burden would have devastating effects. Then, on Mar. 2, NJ Department of Education Commissioner Kimberley Harrington approved the PCS expansion.

I was raised in Princeton for most of my life, attending the PPS system for eight years and the Charter School for my last two years of middle school. I’ve seen both the good and bad each has to offer, and I have to side with Charter on this issue. Here’s why.

Opponents of the Charter school paint it as an elitist institution that few belong to. They then accuse the school of stealing taxpayer money. But make no mistake — the Princeton Charter School is a public school, and that’s the end of it. Students pay no tuition. Not everyone who applies “gets in” simply because the waiting list, of about 100 families, is large for the school’s size of 348 students.

This in turn raises the question — why is demand so high? The PPS district has four elementary schools and one middle school, yet each year Charter has a waiting list that forces it to choose students with a random lottery.

It’s because Charter simply provides a better education. This is reflected each year by both test scores and the preparedness of students coming into Princeton High School. And what is most incredible is that Charter achieves this while spending less money per student than PPS.

That’s why the Charter School was established in 1997: discontent for what the PPS system had to offer. It has proven its worth to the Princeton community over the years. I myself can say that, for the years of middle school that I attended, the Charter School provided a more focused and individualized education.

Furthermore, Princeton families should have the right to choose when it comes to their children’s education. There’s no reason the community should allocate all of its money into one school system if the other has proven to do a better — and more efficient — job.

Other criticisms are even less compelling. The Latino Coalition of NJ sued the Charter School as well — on grounds of segregation when it came to their acceptance process. They even claimed that the school should be shut down. But these claims are misleading because fewer non-English speaking families apply to Charter in the first place. For those who have applied, admission is determined by the lottery.

Charter has also specifically said that it will use the expansion to further diversify its body and weigh admission in favor of unprivileged students.

The biggest irony is that PPS Superintendent Steve Cochrane claims to be willing to “work together” with the Charter School immediately after suing the school with taxpayer money. (This is after he complained about budget deficits.)

Both of these school systems offered me a fantastic education that I will forever be thankful for. But every parent should have the right to choose the best education they want for their child, as my parents did. If the Charter School offers it in some way, then I see no crime in their wishes to expand.

Jan Alsina is a freshman from Princeton, NJ. He can be reached

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