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Grade-A Idea Gets A Pass From New Jersey

August 31st, 2001 by

Community Schools

  • With school doors set to open, America’s school supply retailers expect to pass the $6 billion mark in sales for this year.
  • State leaders most likely will spend twice that – some $12 billion – on building and renovating New Jersey’s public schools.
  • This unprecedented investment offers a once-a-century opportunity to make a lasting investment in surrounding communities at the same time – but the Department of Education is taking a pass.
  • DOE remains stubbornly opposed to the idea of  “community schools” that go beyond single use in the day, and instead serve the community that’s paying for them with library, recreation and performance facilities.

Community schools are not a new or untested idea.  Patterned after “settlement houses” of the 1800s, community schools operate in a public building, and are open to students, families and the community before, during and after school.  They can build or rebuild a sense of community in any rural, urban or suburban place where school money will be spent.

Other states, including California, have shown that community schools avoid redundant public investments, strengthen urban and suburban neighborhoods alike, and preserve land.  New Jersey’s Department of Education thinks a few demonstration and urban projects are all this budget can support.

New Jersey can afford to do better. Schools don’t need to be big boxes, isolated and distant from the rest of the community, and they need not fuel sprawl.  Community schools respond best not only to how schools should be built or rebuilt, but where.  New Jersey Future urges the state to seize the opportunity to build neighborhoods, instead of merely buildings, by constructing community schools (See “20 Ways to Move NJ Toward a More Prosperous, Just and Healthy Future,” on-line at www.njfuture.org).

 


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