Friday Facts and Figures is a weekly newsletter with data points, analysis, and commentary on the biggest policy debates in New Jersey and beyond.
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Join us at our 25th anniversary celebration this September in New Brunswick!
[NJPP / Register Now]
As students return to the classroom for a new school year, a new NJPP report finds that Black students have less access to mental health staff than they did a decade ago, while their white and Asian peers have had increased access. From 2008 to 2020, the ratio of mental health staff for Black students declined from 10.3 per 1,000 students to 8.5, and the ratio of school counselors dropped from 4.0 — the number recommended by the American School Counselor Association — to 2.6. “Do we need more counselors, nurses, and social workers?” said report author Mark Weber. “Given the enormous difficulties of the pandemic, we should be asking that question, not just assuming the needs kids have are the same now as they were before.” [NJ.com / Tina Kelley]
More news on racial disparities in schools: The state’s teacher-student diversity gap is also widening, according to the latest state data. Last school year, 83 percent of teachers were white, compared to 40 percent of the state’s 1.4 million students. And, as lawmakers search for ways to increase teacher diversity, the state is struggling to recruit enough new teachers, period. As teachers and union officials highlight here, the teacher shortage is a result of declining pay and benefits, onerous standardized test requirements, and the ongoing politicization of the profession. [NJ Monitor / Dana DiFilippo and Sophie Nieto-Munoz]
Okay, now for some good back-to-school news: 26,000 more students will receive free breakfast and lunch thanks to new legislation signed into law by Governor Murphy. The Working Class Families’ Anti-Hunger Act, sponsored by Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, increases the income eligibility for free and reduced lunch and requires more districts to participate in the program. “Expanding the right to a free school lunch isn’t just the right thing to do educationally, it is the right thing morally,” Governor Murphy said at the bill signing. [NJ.com / Brent Johnson]
Earlier this week, Acting Attorney General Matt Platkin unveiled a new online dashboard detailing police internal affairs investigations across the state. The dashboard shows that more than 10,000 officers were under investigation last year for allegations of misconduct or other rule violations. NJPP’s Marleina Ubel described the dashboard as a “historic step towards police transparency and accountability,” but said the state could go further by making police disciplinary records public. [Gothamist / Karen Yi]
The state Department of Health has more than 100 staffing vacancies — including five of the department’s 13 leadership roles — raising concerns that the agency may not be equipped to do its job promoting public health and responding to new challenges like monkeypox. And, as if the number of vacancies isn’t bad enough on its own, the department is much smaller today than it was a decade ago: The state’s departments of health and human services lost one-third of their combined workforce between 2008 and 2021. “The sad and simple truth is that New Jersey’s health department continues to suffer from deep staffing cuts made during the Christie administration,” NJPP’s Brittany Holom-Trundy told NJ Spotlight News. [NJ Spotlight News / Lilo Stainton]
Less of an ICYMI and more of a heads up: We’ll be announcing a new, special guest speaker for Progress 2022: Justice for All early next week, so keep an eye on your inbox! In the meantime, click the link to register for NJPP’s 25th anniversary gala and conference later this month. [NJPP / 25th Anniversary]
Pets of NJPP
We’re featuring a mermaid for the first time in Friday Facts and Figures! Just teasing, it’s Cherry, NJPP President Nicole Rodriguez’s pup — but the turquoise blanket does make her look like a mythical sea creature. Woof!
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