New Jersey is rare among the states in that its courts have declared even de facto school segregation unconstitutional since the 1960s. Such segregation has persisted, and worsened, however, because “no one has done anything about it,” said Gary Stein, a former New Jersey Supreme Court justice on the court that ordered equal funding for the state’s districts.
“Here in New Jersey, we have segregation that’s more intense than any state today in the South,” he said. “What we have got in New Jersey, frankly, is an embarrassment. We have segregation at a level that is just intolerable for a state like ours, and we have never addressed it.”
The lawsuit suggests several remedies, including the creation of magnet schools that draw from multiple towns and districts and tax incentives for municipalities to create more diverse schools. It points to an effort in Hartford, stemming from a 1996 desegregation lawsuit, that created clusters of magnet schools so attractive that suburban children are bused into inner-city Hartford to attend them.
Children who attend integrated schools do better than those that remain in segregated schools, research shows. And while the benefits of desegregation are most profound for black and Latino low-income students, diversity also helps white students by exposing them to children of different socioeconomic backgrounds and broadening their perspectives.
“We think that white children who attend segregated white schools are disadvantaged,” Mr. Stein said.
The lawsuit cites statistics to show that without legal action, segregation has only deepened. The number of New Jersey public school students who attend schools that are at least 99 percent nonwhite, for example, grew to 107,322 in the 2016-17 school year, from 93,614 in 2010-11.
New Jersey’s governor, Philip D. Murphy, declined to comment on the suit itself, but his press secretary, Dan Bryan, said that Mr. Murphy was “deeply committed” to desegregation.