At the request of the Joint Committee on the Public Schools, Education Law Center presented testimony today during a hearing on efforts to desegregate New Jersey’s public schools and to advance students’ constitutional right to diverse learning environments by both race and socio-economic status.
The Committee, co-chaired by Assemblywoman Mila Jasey and Senator Joseph Cryan, also received testimony from school districts, advocates and experts, including former New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Gary Stein; Rev. Wille Francois, senior pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Pleasantville and Chair of the New Jersey Coalition Against Racial Exclusion; and Kenyon Kummings, Superintendent of the Wildwood Public Schools.
David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director, presented the organization’s testimony, with support from ELC Research Director Dr. Danielle Farrie.
Mr. Sciarra underscored that the constitutional right of New Jersey students to a “thorough and efficient” education rests on two distinct, but complementary prongs: the right to adequate resources to meet state standards and the right to an education in a diverse learning environment. He said the state has made great strides in providing essential resources to students, but “work on effectuating the complementary right of students to be educated in a diverse learning environment has not just been abandoned by successive governors and legislatures, it has never really started.”
Mr. Sciarra urged the Legislature not to wait for resolution of the pending segregation lawsuit, Latino Action Network vs. State of New Jersey, but instead to begin the important work in support of school desegregation. He listed school district consolidation, State leadership and capacity, and retooling existing programs as the avenues through which immediate steps could be taken to diversify New Jersey public schools.
“We know that diversity in our schools benefits all students – Black, White, Brown and Asian,” Mr. Sciarra said in conclusion. “They benefit from learning together, associating and interacting with one another, and learning the core human values of respect and tolerance for our differences. It is part and parcel of – not separate from – what a thorough and efficient education means in our great state.”
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