Christie, Sweeney, and a Camden charter

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Senate President Steve Sweeney stopped to have his photo taken with young students as he toured the LEAP Academy University Charter School with (top,center) Dr. Gloria Bonilla Santiago (Executive Director Community Leadership Center, LEAP Academy University Charter School in Camden, NJ, on October 20, 2014. ( DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer )

Gov. Christie isn’t the only state politician who likes Camden.

Not to be outdone by the Republican governor, who recently declared he’d visited Camden more often than any other city since he took office, Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) toured the LEAP Academy charter school there Monday to take a look for himself.

“I wanted to get a better education” about the charter school system, Sweeney said in an interview afterward. “I got one today.”

LEAP officials escorted Sweeney through its three schools, including a STEM lab where students recently won a patent for a water filter device.

The 1,500-student charter boasts a 100 percent graduation rate, and 95 percent of its students graduate from college, administrators said. The charter spends $15,000 per pupil, compared with the Camden School District’s $27,500 per pupil spending.

Naturally, LEAP wants more. Dr. Gloria Bonilla Santiago, chair of LEAP’s board of trustees, said the charter received less funding than it was entitled to, and she pressed Sweeney to support a bill that would change that.

The district and state did not have an immediate comment on the issue.

Teachers’ unions and school districts likely would oppose greater funding for charters.

So, would Sweeney, the union ironworker who’s faced off with public-sector unions before on issues like the pension system, be in favor of more charter school funding?

He said he’d have to talk to bill sponsor Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D., Essex) to “see what’s doable.”

Even though Sweeney was noncommittal, Santiago praised the senator as “a man of action.”

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