Saving our Children: Unveiling the Segregation of New Jersey Schools
“While NJ is the most diverse state…when it comes to schools it’s also the most segregated place.” This quote comes from Javier Robles, president of the Latino Action Network of New Jersey (LAN). LAN, in collaboration with other organizations and students filed a lawsuit against New Jersey stating that the segregation of schools violate minority children’s constitutional rights to a quality education. The lawsuit awaits a ruling that would determine if where students attend school continues to depend on where they live. Here is everything you need to know about the segregation of schools in New Jersey.
What is the problem?
Despite being a seemingly diverse state, New Jersey is the seventh most segregated state when it comes to schooling. The lawsuit claims that 66% of Black students and 62% of Latino students attend schools that are 75% or more non-White.
This is a result of where families in New Jersey live as those in impoverished neighborhoods suffer the most from segregated schooling. Despite redlining being made illegal by the Fair Housing Act of 1968, not much has been done to actually end the effects of it. In a statement published by Gotham, Robles states, “You can take a map from the 1950s, a redlined neighborhood like Newark or some other places and put today’s map over it and very little has changed. We’re systematically keeping young Black and brown kids in these neighborhoods without giving them a choice as to where they go to school, even if their schools are failing schools.”
The facts show that children that attend school in minority, impoverished neighborhoods are at an academic disadvantage. A published study shows that when the percentage of Black or Hispanic students in a school was higher, the number of students passing tests was lower. These students are provided with fewer resources due to the lack of funding in their school systems.
The most underfunded New Jersey school districts are those with majority Black and Latino students from low-income neighborhoods. This lack of funding does not allow educators to provide the education and support system that children need to succeed.
The lack of funding also means less opportunities for children to get ahead in preparation for college. In school districts that are predominantly white or Asian, the amount of students enrolled in advanced placement, international baccalaureate and dual-enrollment college courses was higher compared to schools where Black and Hispanic students make up at least 80% of enrollment.
Children are suffering at the hands of where they live. Living in an impoverished neighborhood means living in a school district with less funding and being stripped of opportunities that should be afforded to everyone based on the New Jersey constitution.
The state constitution says that “No person shall be…segregated…in the public schools, because of religious principles, race, color, ancestry or national origin.” How can we sit back as these childrens constitutional right to education is being denied? Segregation of schools means that statistically, white children from wealthy backgrounds are more likely to be successful simply because of where they live. There is an advantage to simply being born to a wealthy white family while those born of Black and Latino parents are statistically more than likely to fall behind against their will.
There is only one solution
There are a few ideas that have been advocated for to end the segregation of schools in New Jersey but they all fight for the same solution: to desegregate the schools.
Two of the most suggested ideas are allowing children to cross district lines to attend schools in other towns and another being to create magnet schools that allow enrollment from anywhere in the county.
Success in desegregation of schools is proven in the Morris School District which combined Morristown and Morris Township schools to combat segregation. In 2015, the district was 52% white students and 48% non-white students. While the school still faces certain struggles, they have seemingly created a model district in which students who live in segregated neighborhoods attend schools that are the opposite.
Desegregating the schools benefits white children too. Research has proven that students in diverse schools develop better critical thinking and problem solving skills: diverse groups consistently outperform non diverse groups in problem solving exercises. Diverse schools also prepare students to be successful in racially diverse workplaces. Finally, there are social and psychological advantages for white students when attending racially diverse schools. To continue learning about the benefits of racially diverse schools for non-minority students, read How Non-Minority Students Also Benefit from Racially Diverse Schools, a study done by The National Coalition on School Diversity.
No District Left Behind
We must continue fighting for all districts to be properly funded and built up. The goal needs to be for wherever you live in New Jersey, there is a safe public school nearby where any child will get the same education and resources as any other public school in the state.
Schools in impoverished neighborhoods are old and worn down, in desperate need of being fixed or rebuilt. However, the path to funding these programs is not clear. Earlier this year the NJ Supreme Court rejected a bid for Murphy to add construction money for urban schools.
The state argued that the entire education system would need to be rebuilt “brick by brick” to achieve desegregation, however, former state Supreme Court Justice and chairman of the New Jersey Coalition for Diverse and Inclusive Schools, Gary Stein argues that “It would not blow up the whole system, it would simply knock down a fence that is a barrier to diversity.”
If rebuilding the education system brick by brick is what will allow children from all walks of life to have access to equitable education, then it should be what all of New Jersey wants. At the end of the day, these children are the future of New Jersey, of America, of the world. It should not matter the money their parents make, or where their family lives, but we should invest in all of New Jersey’s children because it is their constitutional right and with equal education comes equal opportunity to change the world.
This lawsuit by LAN and other organizations urges the government to find solutions to remedy the state’s failure to provide equitable education in desegregated school districts. While an exact date of when the court will give their ruling is not determined, it seems it will be soon. New Jersey please stop failing the Black and Brown children of the state and give them an equitable education as is their right by the New Jersey Constitution.
About The Author: Gabriella Manresa is the Service Specialist Intern of the Lesniak Institute for American Leadership. Gabriella is a student at Kean University obtaining both a Bachelors and Masters of Public Administration through the university’s BA/MPA Honors Program.
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