Out of Control Policy Blog

Schools and sprawl

From light rail to redevelopment zones, local officials across the nation have tried just about everything to get people to stay in or move to the city. However, such pursuits can distract officials from bread-and-butter functions, like education. We hear so much about highways and strip malls contributing to sprawl, but what about bad schools?

In Washington D.C. the mayor's plan to bring 100,000 people to the city has been thwarted by a lousy school system. And the District is even having trouble keeping the people who are already there. Young people who moved to the area when they were single are now getting married and having kids. Instead of subjecting their kids to DC schools they head for the suburbs.

The Los Angeles Unified School District also has the kind of reputation that makes parents shiver:

When Jennifer and Marcus Errico purchased their home last year in Pasadena for just under $450,000, they had two things on their minds: affordability and steering clear of Los Angeles Unified School District.

It was much the same story for Giselle and Craig Arteaga-Johnson, who in April bought a $326,000 Pasadena house. Both couples hope to start families in the next year or two, and concerns about where their kids might someday be learning the alphabet and social skills figured prominently in their decisions on where to buy.

"Education and school systems were at the top of our list," said Marcus Errico, news director for E! Online. "One reason we didn't look in Eagle Rock is we were terrified of our kids going to LAUSD schools."

When it comes to revitalizing a neighborhood, good schools are key:

Quality schools are considered a cornerstone of healthy neighborhoods, according to G.U. Krueger, vice president for market research at IHP Capital Partners, an Irvine-based real estate venture capital firm.

"The most important variable for people when they are looking for housing is the perception of the schools," Krueger said. "It doesn't matter if the housing stock is new or old, people see schools as a reflection of communities."

Conversely, a widespread aversion to LAUSD – borne of low test scores, managerial fiascoes such as the long-delayed $200-million Belmont Learning Complex and facilities in disrepair – hasn't helped market homes in parts of that district.

Now LAUSD is spending billions of dollars on new schools. Of course, what's more important than the physical structure is what goes on inside schools. We'll see if new buildings will be accompanied by a new approach to education, one that emphasizes performance and allows for innovation.

Ted Balaker is Producer


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