Education in Jersey City
In recent years, Jersey City Together's Education Team have pressed to create a fully funded budget for Jersey City Public Schools. This comes after more than a decade where our district was underfunded -- often by $100 million or more. This year, as we enter the 2021-22 school year, we will be working to ensure the district spends the money well and that we maintain full funding going forward.
Join us for our Education Team's first meeting of the school year on Tuesday, September 28th from 8-9pm on Zoom.
What is full funding & why have we been fighting for it?
The state of New Jersey adopted a formula in 2008 to determine how much each school district needs to provide a thorough and efficient education to the children enrolled in the district. The formula is considered by experts on school finance to be a very good estimate of what our children need.
Full funding ensures our district will have the teachers, teacher's aides, counselors, nurses, academic coaches, janitors, and administrators that the district needs. It pays for programs -- summer school, after school,
enrichment, and more. It often pays for the upkeep of buildings, regular maintenance, cleanliness, and more.
From 2008 to 2018 the gap between what the state of New Jersey says our kids need and what they actually receive grew steadily. It took our advocacy to start to turn this around. Read the Education Law Center's report about funding in Jersey City.
Jersey City's deserve a world class education every year. But -- in the midst (and aftermath) of a global pandemic -- our district will need the resources to take action to address the inequities in the system. A fully funded budget is an important, first step.
Because of our work in recent years, the 2021-22 school year will be the first time in more than a decade that the Jersey City Public Schools have a fully-funded budget (as defined by the state). We will have work to do to ensure it stays that way. But we must also make sure resources are actually used well and allocated to address long-standing needs.
How has Jersey City Together made progress?
In 2017, parent & caregiver leaders with Jersey City Together created an education team to address issues they were seeing in the schools.
In the 2017-2018 school year, we pressed for and won a $5.3 million investment in Jersey City Public Schools by asking the Board of Education to use its "banked cap" for that year.
In 2018-2019, we launched a campaign to press for leadership around school funding & a set of concrete investments by the Jersey City School Board. We saw a greater funding increase at the local level (~$12 million) but not enough to respond to the growing need in the district. (During this year, Jersey City Together leaders wrote an OpEd focused on continued funding needs and what the City Council could do in the short term.)
In 2019-2020, we began our work in January, pressing for a $50 million increase in local funding. At the end of the budget cycle, the Jersey City Board of Education overcame its misgivings and unanimously approved a $53 million local funding increase. This was the most significant change in underfunding in more than a decade.
In 2020-2021, we pressed for a fully funded budget. This was achieved last year with a combination of local funding increases & federal monies. Now, our work continues to ensure this money is well spent and that full funding is maintained in the face of expected state funding cuts.
What do we know about the issues facing our children and schools now?
Because of the pandemic, everything about how school worked changed in March 2020. The Education Team continued to listen to students, families, and other school stakeholders, and to reach out through our churches and other nonprofit organizations to bring more families into our work.
As part of this effort we did a survey of Jersey City parents with questions in English, Spanish and Arabic (click here to see findings we disseminated). We received 345 survey responses from a wide sample of Jersey City parents, representing 70 preschoolers, 239 primary students and 34 secondary students. The following three themes emerged from analysis and informed our advocacy:
Technology, Internet Connection, Tech Support. More than 25% of survey responses indicated that students did not have their own device to use for classwork. Our takeaway was we needed our students to each have a device, to be able to connect, and to feel supported in connecting from home, and we advocated for this with the district.
Regular virtual meetings - appropriately sized - are key. Parents (and students) responded positively to regular, consistent, smaller-group meetings with teachers; we advocated for this for the fall of 2020. Kids miss their teachers and their classmates, and when given a chance to connect, it helped not only academically but also socially and emotionally. The kids must feel like they can make a connection which means, now more than ever, class size matters.
Parents are concerned for the social and emotional health of their children. 78% of survey respondents said their child did not have access to a counselor. The current pandemic, resulting isolation, and feeling of disconnectedness is very real, with sadness being the most frequently reported student emotion. Our takeaway was that we needed to fight for sufficient social and emotional support. If we don't meet our children's physical and emotional needs, their academics will suffer.
If you are interested in getting involved in our work for the 2020-2021 school year, sign up by emailing email@example.com.