The recent history of Camden, New Jersey, which is the poorest small city in America, provides a case study of the tragic ineffectiveness of government programs at ameliorating poverty. State and federal taxpayers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on various redevelopment programs in Camden over the years, but the money never ended up where it was supposed to and the promised revival of this fallen manufacturing town never happened.

By far, the largest initiative to combat poverty with government largess has been directed at Camden's public schools. New Jersey spends about 60% more on education per pupil than the national average according to 2012 census figures, or about $19,000 in 2013. In Camden, per pupil spending was more than $25,000 in 2013, making it one of the highest spending districts in the nation.

But all that extra money hasn't changed the fact that Camden's public schools are among in the worst in the nation, notorious for their abysmal test scores, the frequent occurrence of in-school violence, dilapidated buildings, and an on-time graduation rate of just 61 percent.

Camden is one of the nation's best funded and worst performing school districts.

In the early 1990s, Gloria Bonilla-Santiago hatched a plan to create an alternative school for families in the impoverished city of Camden, New Jersey, who were desperate to avoid sending their kids to the city's abysmal public system.

She became deeply involved in building political support to pass the state's first charter school authorization bill. In 1996, the charter school bill passed, and the following year she opened a new school called LEAP in a vacant lot on the Camden waterfront.

Today, the school occupies 5 buildings on Cooper Street, offering its students a cradle to college education, and it's the most successful school in the city. While the four-year graduation rate in Camden's traditional public schools is 61 percent, LEAP has a graduation rate of 98 percent, and every member of its 2014 graduating class got into college.

LEAP Class of 2014 98% Graduation

Something to think about.


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