There’s an old saying that “you can’t put a price on safety.”
While true in the abstract, the State of New Jersey puts a price on the safety of our schoolchildren each and every year.
As part of New Jersey’s budget, our state government allocates an average of $144 per student toward the cost of keeping our children safe during the school day. But as it stands, that money goes only to protect the state’s public school children, excluding the more than 150,000 children who attend New Jersey’s hundreds of nonpublic schools.
Nonpublic school children face exactly the same security risks as their public school counterparts. And yet our state makes no provision for their safety.
This disturbing disparity is why we emphatically support the “Secure Schools for All Children Act,” which was introduced earlier this year in the state Assembly and Senate. This bill would ensure the safety of all NJ school children, allocating an equal amount of security funding for both public and nonpublic school children. The bill has the support of both the Orthodox Union and the Catholic Conference, which together represent tens of thousands of our state’s schoolchildren.
Though many of the state’s nonpublic schools are religious in nature, this is not an issue of religion. It is an issue of fairness. Is the life and well-being of a public school student worth more than that of a student who attends a nonpublic school?
Of course, the answer is a resounding no, yet that is precisely the position of the current state policy.
As evidenced by recent attacks in Paris and Brussels; mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., and San Bernardino, Calif.; and data showing terrorist attacks on institutions of learning on the rise around the world, it is clear that our world is becoming a more dangerous place for our children.
The frequency of violent attacks in our society should put us on notice. While we cannot predict when the next incident will happen, we can give our schools the support they need to better deter threats against students and staff.
Our schools should be safe havens for children to learn, prosper, and grow.
What we are proposing is not without precedent. Last year, NJ Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Dist. 36) introduced legislation allocating $25 in security funding per nonpublic student. That bill passed unanimously in the state Assembly, and the governor agreed to fund the program in the budget.
But New Jersey’s victory was short-lived: This year, the provision was removed altogether from the state budget.
We believe that to protect all our children, we need to go further, helping schools to fund much-needed security enhancements such as card readers to control access, video surveillance and alarm systems, emergency communications tools, and other equipment to keep our children safe.
Late last year, New York City paved the way for nonpublic school children to receive the same safety considerations as those who attend public schools by allocating nearly $20 million to place security guards in every nonpublic school.
We in New Jersey must do the same.