Case Study

The Fund for New Jersey

We caught up with Kiki Jamieson from The Fund for New Jersey which was featured in the previous toolkit to learn more about how the foundation supports non-voting residents while investing in voter engagement work. Here’s a brief excerpt from our conversation:

New Jersey is a state of immigrants – as are many states in the US – and many people live in mixed status families. Given that, it is not atypical to have a family in which the children are citizens and one or both of the parents are not. However, in those instances the children nor their parents often don’t have a voice in things that have such an impact on their lives, like school districts or school boards. 

In New Jersey, we’ve seen local school boards vote down the school budget year after year leading to overcrowding because of a lack of resources. Those schools had to turn everything from the cafeteria to the auditorium into classrooms because they couldn’t get the money they needed for the district. 

That’s because the voters, who were not actually the parents of students at the schools, kept voting down the budget. This makes clear the challenges parents experience when they are not able to have a voice electing the representatives, simply because many of them had not yet been able to or been allowed to naturalize. 

Nobody wins with this system. And so you have to ask yourself, what are the structural barriers to having things work better, and one of the structural barriers is disallowing non-citizen parents from voting in local school board elections. To address these barriers that lead to inequity for students, the foundation is exploring ways to engage non-citizens to vote in local elections or voting for people who are under the age of 18 in order to address the structural barriers for those left out of the voting process.