New Jersey faces a challenge: how to preserve a public education system that works well for many students while simultaneously extending its benefits to those who still lag behind.
Many of New Jersey’s public schools are among the nation’s best.1 In the state’s highest-performing districts, students earn stellar standardized test scores and gain admission to top universities.2 The state-funded preschool program is a national model for early childhood education and its benefits extend for years; the program halves the achievement gap between low-income children and their more advantaged peers.3 Indeed, New Jersey is nationally known for its nearly 50-year effort to improve the education of urban, low-income, African-American, and Latino students.4 Guarantees of equal education set out in the New Jersey Constitution, enshrined in statute, and enforced in court rulings have defined the substantive content and required the public funding that made these gains possible.5
But deficits persist, in both educational achievement and equity. Despite real improvements in the quality of their schooling, many students in urban and low-income districts continue to fall short of the achievement levels attained by their more affluent suburban peers. Even within high-performing districts, the achievement of African-American and Latino students lags that of white and Asian students.6 Moreover, New Jersey’s public school system is one of the most segregated in the nation. Over the past 25 years segregation has increased,7 resulting, in part, from public policies that have fostered housing discrimination. In addition, the failure to evaluate the effectiveness of the state’s school finance formula and to allocate the funding mandated by the New Jersey Supreme Court has perpetuated a system that too often fails students and overburdens local taxpayers.
Despite its many successes, New Jersey’s public education system faces challenges. Without prompt action, many more of our children will lose the opportunity to obtain the education promised in New Jersey’s Constitution.
Finally, the need to prepare more residents for good jobs demands that New Jersey lower the financial barriers that put higher education out of reach and make stronger efforts to increase two- and four-year college completion rates.
To address these challenges, New Jersey must:
- Fully fund the school finance formula codified in the School Funding Reform Act of 2008 (SFRA)
- Carefully evaluate the SFRA formula and, if necessary, adjust its provisions
- Expand the successful state-funded preschool program
- Make higher education in New Jersey more affordable and increase the number of college graduates
- Build and implement programs designed to integrate our schools