This is a guest opinion piece by Brigid D’Souza and Dr. Jyl Josephson who are parent leaders with Jersey City Together’s Education Team. Ms. D’Souza is the parent of two children at PS 3 and the creator of CivicParent.org (and a writer for this publication) and Dr. Josephson is the parent of a child at PS 26 and an associate professor of political science, women’s & gender studies at Rutgers University Newark.
For the last two and a half years, Jersey City Together’s Education Team and parents across the city have been engaged in a focused fight to increase local funding for our public schools. For the first two years, our work helped create incremental progress — an extra $5.3 million in 2018, another $6 million in 2019.
But this has not been nearly enough.
Jersey City Public Schools is a 40-school Pre-K through Grade 12 district serving nearly 30,000 students. Our public schools are the most diverse institution in the city. Seventy percent of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch while 38% of our students are Hispanic, 27% are Black, 18% are Asian, and 14% are White.
This is the diversity our political leaders lift up every chance they get. It’s the kind of institution in which they should be clamoring to invest.
But, for the last decade, while gleaming skyscrapers and luxury apartments have gone up across the city, Jersey City has instead stripped educational resources from the children — mostly black and brown, mostly lower income — attending its public schools.
At a time when state funding is repeatedly being cut and our schools are already $125 million underfunded, Jersey City sends only 24 cents of every dollar of property taxes to its schools. Last year, we saw the immediate impact of this when our schools lost 250 staff, including 160 teachers.
It is utterly unconscionable.
This year, however, the Jersey City Public Schools have had a real leader in Superintendent Franklin Walker.
Superintendent Walker stepped out and offered a budget that spoke to the real needs of the children of the district, adding $50 million to the budget.
His proposal would rehire the hundreds of teachers we lost last year, hire 13 new social workers, 3 new high school counselors, a mental health specialist, and other support staff. It would invest in English Language Learners, visual arts, STEAM programming, and make targeted investments in some of Jersey City’s highest needs schools.
These resources will be all the more important next year as we deal with the fallout from this pandemic.
But the reaction from the political class in Jersey City has been both swift and exactly what you might expect in Hudson County politics.
One BOE trustee said new teachers aren’t needed because “class sizes don’t matter.” Another trustee was dismissive because the people who called in to support the budget were “just moms.” More than one claimed they didn’t want to take anything away from children, while at the same time proposing cuts that would do just that.
In short, Superintendent Walker is being told to lower his sights. Our children, it seems, are not worth the investment.
While it may seem politically expedient now to demand the district reign in local property taxes, we believe we will look back on this moment and see these calls as more than just cowardly. They are proposals that will actively harm our city’s most vulnerable residents.
Education policy experts agree that budget cuts during the Great Recession hurt kids like those in Jersey City Public Schools. Now, they argue, is precisely the time to invest more in our public schools, particularly if we claim to care about inequality.
There is still time for board trustees to make the right choice. But time is running out.
It is always a good time, and a responsible decision, to invest in the next generation. But the current moment demands that investment even more.
Header: Public speaking at the January 30 Board of Education meeting, courtesy Jersey City Together’s Facebook page