OpEd: Asbury Park’s New Charter School and Religious Funding

By Tommy DeSeno

“College Achieve” charter school is trying to open in Asbury Park. It’s operated by Mike Piscal, who is known in the education field for making charter schools in California go broke, for having lax policy on sexual harassment and choosing spokespeople the likes of Bill Cosby. After California he spent two years in Las Vegas, then recently had a failed attempt to open a charter school in Brooklyn.

Having come back home to New Jersey, he incorporated “College Achieve” charter school with no assets other than the $75.00 filing fee, with an address at his father’s house in Toms River.

I’m not saying that he can’t do better starting over from scratch this time. Past success/failure is not always indicative of future performance. I believe in the Jesus story of redemption and the ability of people to rise after failure. I root for people to redeem. Michael Jordan, the Manning brothers and Serena Williams agree with me.

Speaking of Jesus, it’s interesting where Mike Piscal finally got start-up funding for his “College Achieve” charter school. According to something called “The Leviticus Fund,” it came from them, to the tune of $225,000.

Leviticus is a book from the Bible; the Old Testament. It is where we find some passages that are controversial in a “progressive” little city like Asbury Park. In particular, Leviticus teaches that homosexuality is “an abomination.”

You’d expect the people who created a fund and named it “Leviticus” would be very religious. Your expectation would be very right. The Leviticus Fund was founded by “church groups.” They claim to do only “faith-based funding.” They call their money “faith capital.” The fund exists to promote the book of Leviticus.

Progressives tend to reject fundamentalist Christianity, so the Leviticus Fund, as conservative churches are inclined to do to avoid controversy, uses words amenable to the left, like “social justice,” “social impact,” “change” and “vulnerable people.” Yet it’s still Leviticus, complete with a death penalty for gays.

There’s nothing wrong with religions having private schools and charging parents tuition, but “College Achieve” is a public charter school. The taxpayer kicks in for the tuition. That creates an establishment clause problem here.

What expectations does the Leviticus Fund have for Piscal in exchange for its near quarter-million-dollar credit line? To find out, you’d have to line up Piscal, the CEO of the Leviticus Fund and one of the very religious investors and ask them, because I’m betting the “faith based investor” who promotes Leviticus, is expecting his money to do just that. Also, it would be interesting to see what the underlying documents/applications/awards supporting the fund’s investment say about Piscal’s obligation to promote Leviticus in exchange for the money.

This is an issue for the Asbury Park Zoning Board too, who is continuing their hearing next month on an application by College Achieve to open on Grand Avenue. Interestingly, College Achieve’s two proposed sites in Asbury Park and its one site in Plainfield are all in churches, where Leviticus is openly preached. Was that a requirement of the Leviticus Fund?

If College Achieve is promoting a religious dogma, then the Zoning Board must apply a special standard, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). Piscal then might be caught choosing between his faith based-funding obligations and his request for taxpayer money. Let’s ask him.

Funny thing about a small City like Asbury Park – there’s not a lot of media here, in particular investigative journalists, to question people who roll into town thinking no one will ask any questions. There’s not one interview online with Piscal by any local media. Let’s hope the Asbury Park Zoning Board asks the right questions about the Leviticus Fund. I’m not sure the State asked when they approved his charter. Perhaps they weren’t informed of it?

Posted: August 10th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Asbury Park, Education, Marriage Equality, Opinion, Tommy DeSeno | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

7 Comments on “OpEd: Asbury Park’s New Charter School and Religious Funding”

  1. Tommy De Seno said at 11:02 pm on August 10th, 2017:

    Just so everyone is clear, Michael Laffey is an advocate for “Gay Conversion Therapy,” which explains his visceral reaction to my bringing up homosexuality in this column. His rage at homosexuality explains why he is so wrong about obvious truths in the piece.

    It even leads him to pretend a church group so committed to “faith based investing” to promote Leviticus that they named their fund “Leviticus Fund” only believes in one verse of Leviticus. Good grief.

  2. Steve Adams said at 11:19 pm on August 10th, 2017:

    The charter school movement is about offering alternatives and opportunities to try new strategies. If success is measured by improving on the cost or quality of the Asbury Park school district, I’d give almost anyone favorable odds.

    An even better idea would be offer vouchers to every student in a below average school district. Keeping students locked into long term failing systems should be viewed as criminal. Its also bad for taxpayers and our future. Free the students and save the next generation.

  3. And, said at 11:29 am on August 11th, 2017:

    remember all the “Abbott” districts in this state get such a huge portion of their funding from the rest of the state: there sure aren’t enough property- owning taxpayers there, to pay it all. IMHO, if charter schools offer a better outcome and deal for us taxpayers, by all means, give it a fair shot. Until and unless NJ gets handles on: the school funding formula, the overspending on all social programs, especially the ballooning and unchecked Medicaid, and the pension costs( and, rids us of the greedy double and triple- dippers, once and for all,) we will continue to decline into bankruptcy!

  4. But- said at 8:35 am on August 12th, 2017:

    The public charter school movement is about making money off of an uptapped market- our children. If you have stats that show students in charter schools that serve the same population as students in public schools, please share them. We haven’t been able to fix our public schools by throwing money at them- why make us pay for a second system?

  5. Susan Cauldwell said at 9:31 am on August 12th, 2017:

    Mr. Piscal’s 2014 charter school application was rejected by the NJ DOE. Now, in the waning days of his administration, the Governor is doing all he can to hurt public schools and waste scarce public dollars. This “school” still has no site. NJs charter school approval process is horribly broken. The host community should have a say in how its tax dollars are spent.

    Read more about the shyster Mike Piscal here: http://mothercrusader.blogspot.com/2014/04/failed-los-angeles-education.html

  6. Many charter schools said at 2:12 pm on August 12th, 2017:

    use a lottery system, in order to get into them. So all the kids who want in, have an equal chance to try. There would not be a need for a lottery, if no one wanted a better learning experience for their kids. Many usually under -served children who could get ” lost” in an urban or poorly- performing public system have found their passions and shone, in a charter school. We must, by law,educate them all, so all options should be explored and perfected- and, the curricula need to include more and better history, civics, and pride in our country, while they are at it- we are turning out a lot of kids who are both clueless and disrespectful of our great country!

  7. Steve Adams said at 10:30 am on August 14th, 2017:

    All students deserve an education. Its guaranteed in our State constitution.

    Choice is the only way to improve both alternatives and the traditional public school system. Its really that simple.