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While New Jersey residents gave mixed reviews on their local schools based on where they live, most believe the schools are safe, even though guns and school shootings are the biggest safety concerns, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. The Poll was conducted toward the end of the 2022-2023 academic year in partnership with Project Ready, a nonprofit organization devoted to protecting and expanding high-quality education in urban communities in New Jersey.
“New Jersey is known for having some of the best public schools in the country, but it also has some of the most underserved and segregated, so it is no surprise that we have seen mixed views on overall public school performance throughout our 50 years of polling,” said Ashley Koning, an assistant research professor and director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University–New Brunswick. “Even though residents on the whole give more positive than negative ratings, perceptions of the state’s public schools are greatly impacted by who one is and where they live.”
Slightly more than half of residents said public schools in their local community were doing an excellent (18 percent) or good (35 percent) job; a quarter said their local public schools were doing only a fair job (26 percent) and 15 percent said the schools are doing a poor job. Six percent were unsure of how to rate the job their local public schools are doing.
New Jerseyans were more unified regarding school safety – more than three-quarters felt public schools in their community were very (32 percent) or somewhat (46 percent) safe. Ten percent said their local public schools were not very safe and 8 percent said the schools were not safe at all. Four percent were unsure.
Partisanship colored views on overall performance. Democrats were more than twice as likely to rate their local public schools as excellent (27 percent), compared with independents (14 percent) and Republicans (12 percent).
Parents and guardians rated their schools’ overall performance similarly to nonparents, though the former was more likely to say the schools were doing a poor job (21 percent) compared with the latter (12 percent). Those who had completed graduate work also were more likely to rate their schools as excellent (25 percent) compared with those with less education.
When it comes to safety, partisan and racial divisions emerged. Democrats (34 percent) and independents (36 percent) were more likely to say public schools in their community were very safe compared with Republicans (25 percent). Black residents were less likely to label their local public schools as very safe (20 percent) compared with white (34 percent) and Hispanic (31 percent) residents.
There was no statistically significant difference in parents’ and guardians’ feelings on safety compared with nonparents.
“While most residents say their schools are safe to some degree, when we look beneath the surface, we see that our education system remains a tale of two cities,” said Shennell McCloud, chief executive officer of Project Ready. “When Black and Hispanic residents are more than twice as likely as white residents to say their schools are not safe, we are letting our children down. Our communities deserve better and must be integral partners in forging solutions, drawing from their wealth of knowledge and experiences.”
When asked what they felt was the biggest safety issue facing public schools in their community, New Jerseyans placed guns or school shootings at the top of the list (20 percent), followed by a lack of school security measures (18 percent). Six percent said bullying, another 6 percent said violence or weapons other than guns and 4 percent said drugs; 27 percent gave some other answer. Three percent said no safety issues came to mind and 15 percent were uncertain.
Partisan differences emerged on the question of top safety issues: Democrats pointed to guns and school shootings as the top issue (31 percent), while Republicans said their top issue was school security measures (25 percent). Independents were torn between these two issues, with 20 percent saying school security and 18 percent saying school shootings.
Residents 65 and older said school shootings were the top issue (29 percent) more often than their younger counterparts.
Parents and guardians put school security measures as the top safety issue (20 percent), followed by school shootings (16 percent). Nonparents placed shootings (22 percent) slightly ahead of school security (17 percent).
Results are from a statewide poll of 1,002 adults contacted by live interviewers on landlines and cell phones from April 27 to May 5. The full sample has a margin of error of +/- 3.6 percentage points.