New Jersey’s public school system remained highly segregated in the last school year, with enrollment in more than half of all districts either 75% white or three-quarters nonwhite, according to state data.
An NJ Spotlight analysis of the most recent New Jersey Department of Education enrollment data for public schools for the 2018-2019 year found many of the state’s 676 public, charter and county vocational and special services districts to be out of balance racially or ethnically.
The numbers seem to support the argument made by a coalition of nonprofit organizations and parents in their lawsuit against the state that the de facto segregation of schools is caused by residency rules that essentially require children to attend their local public school unless their parents can get them into a charter school, when available, or pay for private education. The suit seeks to force the state to replace the residency rule with other options that could foster more integration. These could include magnet schools and a system of school choice that could allow students to cross district boundaries.
According to the data, last year more than 300,000 children — just shy of a quarter of all those enrolled in public schools — attended classes in districts that were either 90% nonwhite or 90% white.
Nine of 10 students were African American, Hispanic, Asian or another nonwhite race or ethnicity last year in 105 districts across the state. Most of these were located in urban areas. Many were urban charters schools: Fifteen schools — all of them charter schools in Camden, Newark, Trenton and other cities — had no white children last year. Of the traditional school districts, those with the largest nonwhite enrollments were all less affluent “Abbott” school districts — named after the long-running school funding lawsuit. For instance, 99.7% of students in Orange were nonwhite, either black (60.5%) or Hispanic (38.5%)
While white-dominant schools were less numerous, 34 districts had enrollments that were at least 90% white. Most of these were in South Jersey and some were in affluent communities. For instance, Rumson’s public schools were almost 95% white — 53 of 993 students were nonwhite — and the most recent estimated median household income was close to $178,000, the 10th highest in the state and more than twice the state average, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 five-year American Community Survey data (averaged over 2014-2018).
By contrast, New Jersey’s public schools overall have become highly diverse. Fewer than 44% of 1.36 million students last year were white, while almost 29% were Hispanic, 15% African American and about 10% Asian, state data shows.
Yet about 35% of students, or some 472,000, were enrolled in districts where at least three-quarters of all students were nonwhite. Another 244,000, or close to 18%, were in districts that were 75% white.
Educating a majority of New Jersey students in highly segregated schools hurts both white and nonwhite students, the suit and experts contend. Students in segregated high-poverty schools have a hard time achieving. Segregated white students are deprived of an educational experience that prepares them to function as adults in a racially and socioeconomically diverse society. The lawsuit asserts that social science research has found that low-income black and Latino students who attend racially and socioeconomically diverse schools are more likely to achieve higher test scores and grades, graduate from high school, and attend and graduate from college than those in schools with high percentages of low income and/or disadvantaged black and Latinos.