September 16, 2021

Bruce Baker, Mark Weber: Separate and Unequal: Racial and Ethnic Segregation and the Case for School Funding Reparations in New Jersey

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Bruce Baker and Mark Weber are researchers specializing in school finance. This newest piece of research sheds some light on the separate and unequal school systems of New Jersey.

Reinforced by racial segregation and income inequality, the U.S. public schooling system is one of the most unequal in the industrialized world – and New Jersey is no exception. Earlier NJPP reports on education find that the state makes a relatively strong effort to fund its schools, leading to many districts exceeding national averages on test scores. Yet, too many students aren’t given the resources they need to ensure equal educational opportunity. Overwhelmingly, these are Black and Hispanic/Latinx children, living in communities with lower property values and, consequently, lower local capacity to raise revenues to fund schools.

It is no accident that New Jersey’s Black and Hispanic/Latinx students are enrolled in school districts with lower tax capacity: racist practices such as “redlining” and “block busting” have created segregated communities with artificially lower property values. These practices cannot be simply dismissed as sins of the past: the generational wealth taken from the residents of these communities has profound effects on school funding today.

The COVID-19 pandemic further exposes these patterns of institutionalized racism that have resulted in poverty-related education disparities and substantial racial inequities in school resources. For example, NJPP reported last year that children of color were much less likely to have access to a school that offered in-person instruction during the pandemic. Unquestionably, this inequity was due, in part, to disparities in school funding: the better-funded a school district, the more likely it was to have school buildings open to students. But it would be a mistake to suggest school funding capacity, by itself, accounts for all of New Jersey’s chronic inequities in educational resources.

This report examines the history, policies, and practices that negatively affect Black and Hispanic/Latinx students in New Jersey. Included in the following analysis is discussion of the plight of Hispanic/Latinx populations both because many of the mechanisms of discrimination used to disadvantage Black students and families in the past were similarly applied to Hispanic/Latinx populations, and because our own recent work reveals even more substantial school funding disparities affecting Hispanic/Latinx communities.

The report concludes by making a case for school funding reform as a reparation for the racist housing practices that have negative effects on taxpayers and students of color even today. New Jersey should recalibrate its school funding law to account for the additional costs of educating students in racially isolated schools, both to improve outcomes for those students and to provide tax relief to property owners in communities that have suffered the loss of wealth and resources due to systemic racism.

Read the full report here.

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