Sources say civil rights advocates are hoping to entice Senate Minority Leader Thomas H. Kean to join as a co-sponsor of the “New Jersey Reparations Task Force” which would form a panel to conduct research and develop recommendations to financially pay for the generational harms caused by America’s institution of slavery and its legacy of systemic racial discrimination.
Kean, a member of the state’s Amistad Commission and the leading Republican champion of Critical Race Theory, would be considered a key supporter if he will join as a sponsor of the controversial measure aimed at healing race relations in the country.
Although New Jersey is one of the wealthiest states in the country, there are still deep racial disparities in wealth and education that are rooted in slavery.
Despite being among the most racially diverse states, New Jersey has some of America’s most segregated schools, a fact that is subject of a federal lawsuit pending almost 70 years after the US Supreme Court ruled that ‘separate but equal’ education is unconstitutional in its landmark Brown v. Board of Education case.
The statistics are clear and “indisputable,” state Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson said, with New Jersey’s public schools among the most racially segregated in the country.
Gov. Phil Murphy recently signed an executive order creating the Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging, created a Wealth Disparity Task Force and tapped a policy analyst with a law degree to lead the charge, but activists say it’s not enough.
School funding in New Jersey remains unequal despite four decades of efforts to address the effects of segregation, according to a new report that argues for reparations including direct rebates to Black and Hispanic households because many students aren’t given the resources they need to ensure equal educational opportunity.
The report by New Jersey Policy Perspective says the reasons many minority students don’t receive the resources they need to have an equal educational opportunity are rooted in systemic discrimination and racism, such as housing practices known as “redlining” and “blockbusting” that continue to echo.
Reinforced by racial segregation and income inequality, the U.S. public schooling system is one of the most unequal in the industrialized world – and earlier find that New Jersey makes a relatively strong effort to fund its schools, leading to many districts exceeding national averages on test scores
It is no accident that New Jersey’s Black and Hispanic students are enrolled in school districts with lower tax capacity: racist practices such as “redlining” and “block busting” have created segregated communities with artificially lower property values.
Those practices cannot be simply dismissed as sins of the past: the generational wealth taken from the residents of these communities has profound effects on school funding today.
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed patterns of institutionalized racism that have resulted in poverty-related education disparities and substantial racial inequities in school resources.
For example, NJPP reported last year that children of color were much less likely to have access to a school that offered in-person instruction during the pandemic.
Unquestionably, that inequity was due, in part, to disparities in school funding: the better-funded a school district, the more likely it was to have school buildings open to students. But it would be a mistake to suggest school funding capacity, by itself, accounts for all of New Jersey’s chronic inequities in educational resources.
NJPP concluded that school funding reform should be part of reparation for the racist housing practices that have negative effects on taxpayers and students of color even today.
New Jersey should recalibrate its school funding law to account for the additional costs of educating students in racially isolated schools, both to improve outcomes for those students and to provide tax relief to property owners in communities that have suffered the loss of wealth and resources due to systemic racism.
With such intellectual heft behind the idea, civil rights leaders are hoped that Kean will lead the way among Republicans, some of whom want to shed the tarnish of racism that has coated the conservative movement since right-wing extremists rallied around former President Donald Trump.
Others wonder if Kean has the courage to extend his credibility among GOP members that actually harbor racist tendencies since he is planning another bid for higher office as a three-time loser in congressional challenges and cannot afford to alienate bigots if he faces a contested primary.
“It’s no small thing to introduce a bill for reparations, a bill for a cause that is not popular in the Assembly,” said Larry Hamm, chairman of Peoples Organization for Progress. “That’s why they haven’t passed it. It’s not popular because they’re getting pressure from reactionary forces not to take up the bill or to try to disguise the bill, to deceive people to make [them] think it’s one thing that it’s not… Say the word reformation. Let it be a reparations bill.”