February 9, 2022
Education Law Center is calling on the New Jersey Legislature to significantly strengthen proposed legislation to create a Division of School Desegregation in the State Department of Education (NJDOE) “to identify racial and socioeconomic segregation of school districts and to ensure better integration in public schools.”
Senate Bill 820, sponsored by Senator Joe Cryan, was approved by the Senate Education Committee on February 3.
“This bill is a long overdue step to rebuild our state’s capacity to tackle the intense and persistent racial and socioeconomic segregation in New Jersey public schools – a condition well documented by the State itself, experts and advocates,” said Sharon Krengel, ELC Outreach and Policy Director. “But the bill must be amended to deliver the resources and expertise required to dismantle the entrenched barriers that prevent students from attending racially diverse schools.”
ELC’s recommendations to improve the proposed Division of School Desegregation include the following:
- The Division Director should be hired by the Administration, and not chosen from existing NJDOE staff, and the Director must have demonstrated knowledge, experience, skill and expertise in leadership, research, strategic planning and DEI and on issues of education equity, school diversity and desegregation, and racial justice.
- The Division should be in, but not of, the Department of Education, with a separate budget and the ability to hire sufficient, qualified personnel.
- The Division should receive an initial appropriation of at least $5 million.
- The Division should be expressly authorized to contract with and retain qualified outside consultants to support its research and work, including New Jersey’s institutions of higher education.
- The Division should have broad authority and responsibility for desegregation beyond the Interdistrict School Choice Program, including school district consolidation, sending-receiving agreements, charter schools, vocational schools, within district and within school equity and diversity, school discipline and school climate, and other matters, and should publish comparative demographic data on segregation overall and, specifically, of the district of residence and the district of attendance for all students participating in any of the state’s current school choice models.
- The Division should make community engagement a central priority, including outreach and public hearings to disseminate data, research and information on segregation and the benefits of diversity, as well as creation of a task force to examine information compiled by the Division and to influence the eventual strategic plan.
- The Division should report annually to the Legislature on the challenges and progress made in advancing desegregation and diversity in the state’s public schools and the actions necessary to achieve this goal, including steps that can be taken to comply with court orders.
“The State must fulfill its constitutional obligation to dismantle racial isolation and promote the opportunity for students to attend diverse schools,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. “Unfortunately, over the last two decades, successive governors and the NJDOE have simply abandoned efforts to address and remediate the intense patterns of racial and socio-economic segregation that persist in our public school system.”
ELC is working with allies, including the Coalition for Diverse and Inclusive Schools
and the Inclusion Project, which supports the desegregation lawsuit Latino Action Network et al. v. State of New Jersey; Building One America, which brings together stakeholders and the faith-based community to find solutions to school segregation; and the Our Children/Our Schools network and others supporting a bold legislative agenda to desegregate New Jersey’s public school system.
NEW JERSEY EDUCATION DEPARTMENT: UNDER-STAFFED AND OVERWHELMED
Policy and Outreach Director
973-624-1815, x 240
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications