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NEW JERSEY’S OUR CHILDREN/OUR SCHOOLS: 15 YEARS OF FIERCE ADVOCACY FOR EDUCATION RIGHTS

By Sharon Krengel

August 2, 2022

In 2007, Education Law Center and several education organizations in New Jersey came together to form a statewide advocacy network, Our Children/Our Schools (OC/OS). The network’s objective was clear: defend and advance the unprecedented success of the landmark Abbott v. Burke decisions that provided adequate funding for students in the state’s poor, urban school districts, along with high quality, full-day preschool, and construction of new or renovated school buildings. OC/OS founders understood the importance of the Abbott decisions in advancing education justice in New Jersey and beyond. In fact, the New York Times had called Abbott the most important court rulings on public education since Brown v. Board of Education.

Over the intervening years, the OC/OS network has grown in size and stature, taking up issues from resource equity to special education and school desegregation. The founding members, including the NJ State Conference of the NAACP, Paterson Education Fund, NJ Black Issues Convention, Abbott Leadership Institute, and the Statewide Education Organizing Committee, have been joined by other education, children’s rights and civil rights organizations, including Save Our Schools NJ, SPAN Parent Advocacy Network, and Healthy Schools Now, to name just a few. The full list of OC/OS members and friends can be found here.

ELC has supported the OC/OS network from its inception, providing physical and virtual meeting space, facilitating meetings, managing communications, and offering subject area expertise. ELC staff regularly brief network members on the status of the state’s school funding formula and proposed legislation regarding student assessment, disparities in school discipline, and many crucial issues. ELC works to ensure litigation to enforce education rights is consistent with, and fully supported by, the advocacy of OC/OS members.

OC/OS has maintained a schedule of monthly meetings through Republican and Democratic administrations, superstorms and other acts of nature, and a once-in-a-century pandemic. Members and invited speakers provide updates on broad education issues, specific policy concerns, litigation efforts, and advocacy campaigns to inform, seek support, and jointly settle on strategy and action.

The network weighs in on school funding in the annual State Budget, providing public testimony, meeting with state legislators and administration staffers, and educating the press and public. OC/OS has also been a longtime member of a statewide budget coalition, For the Many, which brings together advocates from sectors ranging from healthcare and housing to labor and education, all working together to increase public revenue to support the public good, rather than fighting for a piece of an ever shrinking pie.

OC/OS and network members often testify on bills introduced at Senate and Assembly Education Committee hearings, at State Board of Education meetings, and before the New Jersey Legislature’s Joint Committee on the Public Schools. Recent topics have included compensatory special education due students who did not receive services during pandemic school closings, high school graduation exit testing, and school segregation. A small sample of OC/OS public statements is available here.

A statewide advocacy network cannot survive for 15 years without evolving, and OC/OS is no exception. In recent years, members have created the OC/OS Task Force to discuss in more depth important issues brought to the network’s attention and to propose efforts or actions to be undertaken by the full membership. The Task Force includes several longtime OC/OS members, as well as representatives from the NJ PTA, the League of Women Voters of NJ, the NJ Association of Black Educators, the NJ Community Schools Coalition and others.

In early 2022, Kaleena Berryman joined ELC as Policy Advocate, tasked with supporting the OC/OS network. Ms. Berryman, a seasoned education advocate with deep roots in Newark, is working to energize OC/OS members through a new membership recommitment drive.

She is also now leading the OC/OS Task Force through discussions that will result in a statement of network priorities for New Jersey’s public schools for the 2022-23 school year. Task Force members have created brief write-ups about student mental health and social-emotional learning, the benefits of community schools, the necessity of integrating New Jersey’s public schools, and the urgent need for Governor Phil Murphy’s administration to make nominations to replace long expired seats on the State Board of Education.

OC/OS is New Jersey’s home-grown advocate for public education rights, 15 years strong. ELC also convenes the Partnership for Equity & Education Rights (PEER), a network of advocacy organizations and coalitions in states on the front lines of the fight for school funding reform and education equity.

Look for the OC/OS 2022-23 statement on the network’s website and connect with OC/OS using this online form.

Sharon Krengel is the Policy and Outreach Director at Education Law Center.


Press Contact:

Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
skrengel@edlawcenter.org
973-624-1815, x 240