Quite possibly, the worst nightmare of any parent is to receive a call or email about a serious breach of security at their child’s school.
Local and statewide education leaders and elected officials are determined to do all they can to increase the safety of and prevent violence in New Jersey schools.
Yet curiously enough, there is a striking degree of inequity when it comes to New Jersey state government funding for school security. If your children attend any of the nonpublic schools in the state, whether Catholic or Jewish, Islamic or Christian, Presbyterian or Seventh-Day Adventist, religious or independent, school security is funded at less than half the level that public schools are allocated.
This funding inequity is all the more puzzling when we consider that nonpublic schools face heightened threats. The New Jersey State Bias Crimes report, issued by the Attorney General’s Office in March, noted a rise in hate crimes in our state. One particularly alarming fact in this report was that the most frequent location of such crimes is schools (27%).
One of the bedrock values of our state is our celebration of diversity. Our towns regularly host parades, festivals, observances and other activities to honor the rich heritage and values of the many different religious and ethnic groups in New Jersey. We all take pride in our acceptance and appreciation of the tapestry of traditions in our communities.
Yet curiously enough, when it comes to the essential matter of providing the financial resources needed to keep students safe, nonpublic schools – an integral feature of our state’s diversity – are seriously shortchanged. The more than 150,000 students in nonpublic schools, representing around 10% of the state’s school age population, were allocated $75 per pupil in fiscal year 2018 for school security, while public school students were allocated approximately $148 per pupil. In the fiscal year 2019 budget, the gap is widened to over $205 per pupil for public school security while the allocation for nonpublic school students remains at $75 per pupil, with no increase in funding to keep nonpublic school children safe.
As educational leaders in New Jersey school communities that teach the Islamic, Jewish and Christian faiths, we believe that our state can and must do better to insure the safety of all our children. We work together, in partnership with the Teach NJS organization, to mobilize support for school security funding parity.
We are encouraged by the New Jersey state legislators, on both sides of the aisle, who have attended Teach NJS events and expressed public support for our cause. We call on the state Senate, General Assembly and Gov. Phil Murphy to muster the resources so that the surest reflection of our state’s diversity – our youth – is equally safe and secure, no matter which schools they attend.
Sufia Azmat is executive director of the Council of Islamic Schools in North America. Josh Caplan is executive director of Teach NJS, a nonpublic school advocacy organization. George Corwell is director of the Office of Education for the New Jersey Catholic Conference.