By Tom Wiedmann, TAPinto Newark

Support for public charter schools among Newark voters remains, but the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on student learning has many concerned, according to a recent poll commissioned by the New Jersey Children’s Foundation, a Newark-based education advocacy group.

Change Research, a San Francisco-based data collection group, polled hundreds of Newark voters and found that 62% of voters agreed public charter schools are an important part of the public school landscape in the city, a two percentage point increase from 2020.

Although support for public charter schools remains consistent, the numbers revealed the toll the pandemic has taken on Newark schools. Only 24% of voters said education is on the right track – an 18 percentage point drop from 2020, with many voters shifting to “undecided” as well over the last year, according to the poll.

“For three years in a row–and even amidst a pandemic–support for Newark’s public charter schools has reached incredibly high marks,” said Kyle Rosenkrans, the executive director of the New Jersey Children’s Foundation. “This is a testament to the hard work and dedication of many city leaders who have sought alliance, harmony and collaboration amongst all public schools in the city. However, the downward trend in right-track numbers suggests that, in this pandemic, voters are increasingly moving to the sidelines, waiting to see how leaders respond.”

The poll comes after a number of reports over the past year indicated just how many students have grappled with remote learning during the pandemic.

Spring 2021 test scores from Newark public schools showed that just 9% of students in grades 2-8 met state expectations in math while 11% of students met expectations in reading.

When a study conducted by JerseyCAN, a nonprofit focused on advocating for high-quality schools for all New Jersey students, took a quantified look at how the pandemic affected students’ academic progress statewide during the 2020-21 school year, the numbers revealed a similar trend.

The study found that across the board students lost significant amounts of expected learning in the first half of the 2020-21 school year, with Black and Latinx students losing more learning than their peers. On average, New Jersey students lost 30% of expected learning in English Language Arts (ELA) and 36% of expected learning in math. The loss was greater for Black students who lost on average 43% in ELA and 50% in math, according to the report. Similarly, Latinx students lost 37% of expected learning in ELA and 40% in math.

Upon the release of the New Jersey Children’s Foundation poll, one parent and Newark education advocate, Jasmine Morrison, said the results validated what she sees every day through her work.

“Newark families trust that in public charter schools, their children will be given every opportunity to achieve their dreams,” said Morrison, an organizer and founder of Unapologetic Parents, an organization that advocates for better school options and equity in education. “As more and more parents become unsure that Newark public schools are on the right track, families will be looking for leadership that supports our right to choose the best public school for our children.”

Another highlight from the poll revealed that support for Newark Mayor Baraka among voters, who also support charters, ahead of this spring’s non-partisan municipal elections was also high, besting a generic opponent by nearly 25 percentage points. Those likely Baraka voters supported public charter schools by a 42 point margin — 69% favorable to 27% unfavorable.

Overall, the poll  found 66% of Black voters feel favorably toward charter schools, along with 67% of voters with children under the age of 18. Additionally, support for public charter schools extends across political divisions.

More than 60% of both Democrats and Republicans support the city’s charter schools. Lastly, support for charters amongst senior citizens, ages 65 and up, was also highest amongst any of the age groups polled, at a 65% favorability.

Change Research conducted the survey using a proprietary online survey method that reached a demographically representative sample of 431 Newark voters during the dates of Dec. 17-20, 2021, with a margin of error of +/- 4.71%.