School Funding 502: NJ Department of Education Data & Reports

This is a quick initial post to point taxpayers to an excellent resource for rich, official public data about our public schools here in NJ.

The NJ Department of Education (NJ DOE) has, for at least the past 10 years, published a host of different datasets on its “DOE Data & Reports” page. The data stretches as far back as 1997 and is generally available in flat file / spreadsheet format. While clunky to work with from an end-user perspective, the data is rich and detailed. It includes voluminous state-mandated datasets, some that go down to a per-school level.

NJ Department of Education’s “DOE Data & Reports” located at https://www.nj.gov/education/data/

The data includes student enrollment, staffing details, graduation rates, state aid summaries, spending summaries, executive (eg senior cabinet) level salaries, and school district budget summaries. There is both breadth and depth; a lot of useful information that a casual observer (e.g. taxpayer, parent) may find interesting, like enrollment by school, spending by school, and different spending categories like special education.

With respect to how to find district- or school-level data: the data is compiled within the following reporting entity hierarchy:

COUNTY > SCHOOL DISTRICT > SCHOOL

Where…

COUNTY = one of 21 counties in NJ

SCHOOL DISTRICT = either a citywide school district like “Jersey City Public Schools” OR a Charter School (each charter is its own district for reporting purposes)

So let’s look at an example of a school within the JCPS system:

  1. Hudson County is a county within NJ
  2. Jersey City Public Schools is a school district within Hudson County, and its unique code is “0906”.)
  3. Frank R Conwell PS #3 School is a school located within the Jersey City Public Schools system.

Let’s also look at an example of a charter school in Jersey City:

  1. Hudson County is a county within NJ
  2. Beloved Community Charter School is school district within Hudson County (Beloved’s unique code is “6082.”)

Each of these entities (county, school district, school) has administrators and governing bodies that are responsible for the entity’s performance. Some of that information (e.g. superintendents in charge of school districts) are available in these datasets, though you must hunt and peck for it.

If you are interested in a particular lens of public schools (e.g. special education, staff salaries, how costs break down), then I recommend poking around these datasets to learn more. Depending on your background, you may have more insight into some of the metrics being presented, and how useful (or not) those numbers are.

The one major drawback is, as I mentioned above, that it’s not user friendly. There are some limited capabilities to filter / drill-down by county and school district and even school (depending on the dataset).  Otherwise, you have to rely on personalized searches within your own spreadsheet package like MS Excel, Google Sheets, Github, or the like. If you are comfortable with datasets, digging into this data may not be too onerous. But if you lack the skills or comfort level to use the data as it’s presented on this page, then one resource you can connect with is Code for Jersey City, a local civic group that aims to leverage technology for community benefit. Often there is a disconnect between those who understand the data most (the subject matter experts) and those who can most readily access and analyze the data (the technologists). Connecting these two stakeholders is critically important, and this is where a group like Code for Jersey City can help.

I am also happy to field questions.