Continuing to move his Education Reform Agenda forward, Governor Chris Christie signed legislation that expands education options in failing schools in urban communities. Governor Christie was joined by Mayor Dana Redd for the signing at the Lanning Square School in Camden, where on June 9th he and the mayor publicly announced the initiative aimed at providing greater school choice for students in the some of the worst performing districts in the state.

The Urban Hope Act allows three districts - Camden, Newark, and Trenton - to partner with one or more nonprofits to construct as many as four "renaissance schools" in each district. The nonprofits must have experience operating schools in low-achieving districts and commit to both building a new school and offering a rigorous academic program designed to prepare every student for college, career, and beyond.

"Last June, Mayor Redd and I announced an innovative public-private education project designed to turn around some of the most chronically failing schools," said Governor Christie. " I am proud to sign the Urban Hope Act to finally give students and parents trapped in some of the state's school districts with the largest achievement gaps, hope and opportunity for increased educational options that will lead to a successful and productive future."

The Urban Hope program specifically targets students with the greatest need in order to ensure every child in New Jersey has access to the same quality education. Whether it is particular after school programs or extracurricular activities, longer school days or years, the focus in renaissance schools will be about getting results in the classroom through greater freedom and flexibility to adapt to the unique needs of students.

"We must continue to be impatient for the thousands of students that remain stuck in failing schools across the state," said Acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf. "The signing of this bill today provides one more tool that we have to ensure that a student's zip code does not define his destiny. We must continue to seek high-quality education options for our students so that every child can graduate from high school ready for college and career."

Camden Mayor Dana Redd added, "For far too long, our urban youth have struggled to break through the achievement barriers found in the chronically failing schools in urban communities like Camden. This Transformation Schools initiative will give these students and their parents renewed hope, access to quality educational opportunities and the ability to reach their potential for a productive and successful future."

"Students in Camden, Newark and Trenton are being forced to attend failing schools where they are deprived of the quality education they deserve … It is our responsibility to provide them with access to better educational options. With school construction projects at a standstill and alternative educational opportunities out of reach for so many, this allows local school districts to partner with nonprofits to provide new hope to our children for success." said Senator Donald Norcross (D-Camden/Gloucester).

The Department of Education will annually evaluate whether renaissance school projects are meeting certain goals and improving student achievement through state-monitored assessments.

The Urban Hope Act is one of four bills on the Governor's education agenda. Tenure reform, merit pay, and a charter reform bill still lack legislative approval.