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?