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For too long, New Jersey parents and families have been shut out of the process and decisions that affect their children. This has perpetuated academic struggles in the state’s historically underserved communities as well as the allocation of services connected to pandemic relief. Something must be done to remedy this persistent problem. Our leaders in Trenton must reimagine their policymaking process and allow parents and families to play a more prominent role in their children’s education.
The pandemic shined a spotlight on the inequities of our public schools and now we must do better to address those real-world concerns. New Jersey has created a dashboard that reflects where its $4.35 billion in American Rescue Plan Act/Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (APR/ESSER) funding is being allocated within school districts.
While having a dashboard of information is important, it doesn’t inform families and the community about how many New Jersey school districts provided an avenue for authentic community engagement on how to spend federal funds.
In a National Parents Union national poll from November 2022, 23% of parents say their children’s school has asked for input on APR/ESSER funding and 64% responded that they have not been given the chance to provide feedback. How can you make spending decisions without the second most important stakeholder in education? Parents!
Furthermore, the Department of Education and local school boards must do a better job of engaging families directly. Back in January, the Asbury Park Board of Education tried to silence the voices of students and the community trying to speak their truth about the challenges they face in school. (Keep in mind that Asbury Park ranks 425th out of 425 districts in math and 436th out of 436 for reading.)
The community showed up in large numbers and demanded to be heard. Here’s how parent Tiasia Newman described what happened: “The whole experience made me proud and ashamed at the same time. I was proud of the students for standing up, while ashamed of the adults trying to keep them in their seats.” There has to be a better way to engage the community in a productive way.
Here are three ways our governor and state leaders can better involve parents and make them part of the solution:
- Create a multi-region community engagement committee under the state Board of Education. By getting parents and the community involved at a local level, it will be easier to get buy-in on big policy decisions. This would also benefit the Board of Education because they would have community input before implementing a new policy.
- Reduce the delay of the release of statewide tests. When parents receive their child’s assessments in a timely and easy-to-understand fashion, moms and dads can provide support for their children in the grade they are currently in. Currently, parents have to wait months to get state test scores, long after their child has moved to the next grade level. We need our lawmakers and policymakers to be mindful of what’s best for the child.
- Provide additional opportunities for statewide engagement on critical issues. As we saw in Asbury Park, students, parents and local stakeholders are kept at arm’s length in local school board meetings, but it’s even more restrictive when the state’s Department of Education has “public meetings.” When big decisions are being made that affect our student’s education, there must be an easy way for community stakeholders to engage, including hybrid meetings and public comments that are included in the discussion.
We, as a state, need to make parent involvement a priority, because increasing parent and community advocacy is good for our students and our future. Authentic community engagement is an important and necessary step to improving education outcomes for our children and the economic health of New Jersey.
A strong educational foundation will improve New Jersey’s workforce now and in the long run.