NJ as a segregationist haven





by Dan Dodson

School desegregation laws were developed in the 1960's when cities were the centers of the universe and suburbs were nearby. Rural communities were simply too far away and too white to be integrated. The world has changed since then. Rural communities like Hopewell are now made up of vast tracts of suburban development.

In my hometown of Winston-Salem, NC schools integrated at the county level. This meant that not only were black and white neighborhoods in the industrial town integrated, the entire county of tobacco and corn farmers were integrated along with us. As a result, white flight was largely restricted to increased enrollment in private schools. As suburban sprawl has taken over Winston-Salem, it has maintained an integrated district and preserved property values within the city limits.

NJ did not consolidate and integrate at the county level and the effect speaks for itself. Neither Trenton nor West Windsor come close to reflecting the racial make-up of their region. If NJ is any indication, the US Supreme Court and the NAACP's efforts in school desegregation were wasted on our state.

Urban Republicans suggest a remedy.

Roughly $13K a year is spent on every child in the Trenton school system. This amount outpaces our suburban neighbors and many of the private schools in the region. It would seem logical to empower Trenton's parents to use that (state funded) money to send their kids to the best schools in the area. This would have the immediate effect of partially integrating many of those schools.

School choice does not have to stop there. Private and public schools located in Trenton would be free to attract students from throughout the district and the region. With school choice in place, a Trenton based magnet school for the arts could attract students from Princeton, Hamilton and Hopewell Township. In fact, Trenton has a built-in advantage due to its central location and low property values.

Democrats who control NJ politics seem happy to let the status quo in school segregation lie. Urban Republicans offer the solution of school choice as a remedy to both underperforming and segregated schools.

I'll counter detractors in advance

Some will complain that our system of 611 independent school districts prevents desegregation. I point again to the south that faced more massive social hurdles of overt racism. I dare a politician to claim this as a viable impediment in NJ. He or she would essentially be claiming that NJ is more racist than Mississippi, where schools are integrated.

Others will say that our property tax structure prevents desegregation. Tax structures are not permanent. It seems that school desegregation could be reason for change. Today, NJ's urban schools recieve most of their funding from the state while suburban schools are the reverse. Education policy analysts in NJ (I can name names), who by the way have done nothing to address this problem, point to provision in NJ law that mandates school equality. The quickest way to ensure equality is to equalize funding, ie. 100% state funding.

How will kids get to school? You're talking to someone who was bused every which way from Sunday. If busses are what it takes, then so be it.

Why would a kid every want to go to school in Trenton or Newark or Camden? They won't unless they are better than their suburban counterparts.

Won't that kill off those schools? Maybe, but it's not like teachers will go jobless. To attract students, private and public schools will offer lower class sizes and better teachers. This is good for teachers. If a school in Trenton can't overcome it's location that's no reason to force kids or teachers to stay there. The net result is more teachers will be hired.

Dan Dodson is a management consultant and Leadership Trenton Fellow.

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Copyright 2002, Dan Dodson