Jersey City Public Schools – A Public Good Requiring Public Funding

Jersey City Public Schools is the city’s largest public good, funded through a combination of state, local, and to a lesser degree, federal tax dollars. In 2018/19 the public schools budget was over $600 million; this is larger than the city’s entire budget.  The schools are a public good because they educate the vast majority of our city’s children, who number more than 10% of our city’s population.  Consider:

  • Jersey City Public Schools educate 30,119 students according to the 2018/19 budget.
  • Jersey City’s population per 2017 US Census estimates is 270,753.

Additionally, there are at least 10 local charter schools that also receive public tax dollars, and which educate nearly 5,000 more children. While these schools are administered separately from the public school system, they nonetheless receive public tax dollars. As such, they have a stake in public school funding issues and should also be subject to public scrutiny, similar to the public school system.

Unfortunately, public schools in Jersey City are severely underfunded on a local, i.e. city, level, as the Education Law Center laid out in this report from March 2018. For years, the state has been subsidizing this local shortfall, in effect masking the local under-funding and allowing poor public policy to fester.  But in June 2018, the state legislature voted to stop subsidizing and force Jersey City to locally fund. Here are the expected, known state aid cuts:

  • 2018/19: $7.5 million
  • 2019/20: $36 million
  • 2020/21: $36 million
  • 2021/22: $36 million
  • 2022/23: $36 million
  • 2023/24: $36 million
  • For a total of $187.5 million in aid reduction over the next 7 years.

There is an important public dialog to be had in the months ahead. This fiscal challenge will force a public reckoning with the way our city and board of education function. Public officials will be held to greater account as the larger public awakens to this dire fiscal crisis that has been growing for at least 10 years, ever since the School Funding Reform Act of 2008 was implemented.

In the weeks ahead I’ll be publishing data to help inform the dialog for parents and taxpayers. As a public school parent, taxpayer, and local resident, I care about our public schools and want them responsibly funded.  I also have an intellectual interest in the data and the patterns we can glean from it.