This story was funded by a grant from the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University as part of its In the Shadow of Liberty – Immigration in New Jersey project.
More immigrant children are attending New Jersey schools and they increasingly live in the state’s urban areas, according to school-enrollment data. Immigrant communities in suburban and rural South Jersey, in particular around casino-centric Atlantic County, appear to have shrunk in the years between 2010 and 2016, according to the data analyzed by Route 40. (Click here to view a full-page version of the interactive map).
There are some notable exceptions to the immigrant population decline in South Jersey: Vineland and Bridgeton saw double- and triple-digit increases in their non-English-speaking school populations, while Pleasantville and Somers Point bucked an Atlantic County trend toward a decline in immigrant community members over the 2010-2016 period. One other standout is Ocean City, where there was a four-fold increase in the number of students classed by their school district as “limited English proficient” (LEP) over the time period.
In the six years after 2010, one third of the suburban school districts around Atlantic City saw enrollment of limited-English-speaking children drop by more than 40 percent. Five casinos closed during that time period. The Atlantic county declines compare to sharp increases in school districts in the north of the state, particularly in Union, Essex and Middlesex counties.
On average, schools across the state saw a 30-percent increase in the enrollment of students who speak limited English between 2010 and 2016, the data show. There is a shortage of teachers qualified to teach English as a second language, or bilingual classes, and schools are scrambling to catch up with new demands.
To be sure, the numbers issued by the Department of Education are not a direct tally of the numbers of immigrant children in the state. The department’s numbers count children who are categorized as LEP. State code says every school district should test the English of students who speak another language at home – but it leaves the details of that testing process up to the district. The difference over time between the enrollment numbers in one district could reflect a change in the testing methodology, rather than an immigration pattern.
Still, the state Department of Education’s data is a close proxy for immigration change that tallies with U.S. Census Bureau estimates showing net international migration has slowed in recent years in South Jersey. More than 1,500 immigrants arrived in Atlantic County last year, according to the latest U.S. Census bureau estimates. But even that is not enough to offset the departures of others who are moving elsewhere for jobs, or a cheaper retirement.
Thank you to Colleen O’Dea of NJSpotlight for help mapping New Jersey’s school districts.