New Jerseyans have mixed feelings of local schools but think they are safe

A new poll from Rutgers University’s Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling found that New Jersey residents gave mixed reviews on their local schools, but most believe they are safe, even though guns and school shootings are the biggest safety concerns.

The poll, which was conducted in partnership with Project Ready, a nonprofit organization devoted to protecting and expanding high-quality education in urban communities in New Jersey, found that slightly more than half of residents (53%) said public schools in their local community were doing an excellent (18%) or good (35%) job; a quarter (26%) said their local public schools were doing only a fair job and 15% 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 (78%) felt public schools in their community were very (32%) or somewhat (46%) safe. Ten percent said their local public schools were not very safe and 8% said the schools were not safe at all. Four percent were unsure.

The poll also found that partisan differences colored views on overall performance. Democrats were more than twice as likely to rate their local public schools as excellent (27%), compared with independents (14%) and Republicans (12%).

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%) compared with the latter (12%). Those who had completed graduate work also were more likely to rate their schools as excellent (25%) compared with those with less education.

When it comes to safety, partisan and racial divisions emerged. Democrats (34%) and independents (36%) were more likely to say public schools in their community were very safe compared with Republicans (25%). Black residents were less likely to label their local public schools as very safe (20%) compared with white (34%) and Hispanic (31%) 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.”

This image depicts terrified children running to safety at the Robb Elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, after a mass shooting incident there. (Photo credit: Pete Luna, Uvalde Leader News)
This image depicts terrified children running to safety at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, after a mass shooting incident there. Guns and shootings top the list of safety concerns facing public schools identified by New Jersey residents. (Photo credit: Pete Luna, Uvalde Leader-News)

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%), followed by a lack of school security measures (18%). Six percent said bullying, another 6% said violence or weapons other than guns and 4% said drugs; 27% gave some other answer. Three percent said no safety issues came to mind and 15% were uncertain.

Partisan differences emerged on the question of top safety issues: Democrats pointed to guns and school shootings as the top issue (31%), while Republicans said their top issue was school security measures (25%). Independents were torn between these two issues, with 20% saying school security and 18% saying school shootings.

Residents 65 and older said school shootings were the top issue (29%) more often than their younger counterparts.

Parents and guardians put school security measures as the top safety issue (20%), followed by school shootings (16%). Nonparents placed shootings (22%) slightly ahead of school security (17%).

The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.6 percentage points.

Overall, the poll results suggest that New Jersey residents are generally satisfied with their local schools, but that there are some concerns about safety, particularly among Democrats and Black and Hispanic residents. The poll also highlights the partisan divide on the issue of school safety, with Democrats more likely to prioritize gun control and Republicans more likely to prioritize school security measures.

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