School choice brings families back to inner-ring suburbs

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If city officials want to bring families with children back to the older parts of our city, they ought to be lobbying the legislature to expand school choice -- more charter schools, vouchers, tuition tax credits. Here's a recent example from the Cincinnati area of the positive effects of school choice on the revitalization of older neighborhoods:

The homes are square and solid, like the dark-red bricks from which they're built. Old steps and wrought-iron railings lead to small porches shaded by big trees. The uneven sidewalks, postage-stamp yards and 1950s styles look like so many neighborhoods in Cincinnati's aging first-ring communities.

But something is happening on the quiet, clean streets that straddle Golf Manor and Amberley Village: It's a mini-population boomlet.

While most of the city has been losing families to suburbs that offer more land, newer houses, lower taxes and better schools, this neighborhood is a magnet for young professionals with large, growing families.

A recent inventory of new residents includes an ophthalmologist, a Procter & Gamble manager, an Internet entrepreneur, a journalist, two in real estate, two in construction, two in the nursing home business, a restaurant owner and seven rabbis.

Nearly all of these Orthodox Jewish families were attracted by two things: Cincinnati Hebrew Day School, and vouchers provided by Ohio EdChoice.

The vouchers are especially important to young parents who are still working on advanced degrees or medical school, said Rabbi Ben Travis, development director at the Hebrew Day School on Losantiville Road, which has become "the cog around which the community revolves."...

Tuition at Hebrew Day School is $6,365. Students in neighborhoods with failing public schools are eligible for private school vouchers up to $4,375, depending on income, Motzen explained. Families usually pay more of their tuition as their careers take off, Travis said.

The two communities mentioned are called "first-ring suburbs" -- bedroom communities, just outside the limits of the core city, set up to accommodate the post-war baby boom wave of new home buyers. Fifty or sixty years later, these inner-ring communities have long since been passed over by families in favor of newer suburbs further out. Often the infrastructure, housing stock, and retail stock has aged badly. They're in a kind of no-man's land -- lacking the amenities of the core city and newness of the newer suburbs.

The nearest examples of inner-ring suburbs can be found around Oklahoma City -- e.g., Midwest City, Del City, Warr Acres. Because of the annexation policies Tulsa pursued in the '40s and '50s, we don't have these kinds of communities as separate municipalities. (Highland Park -- 31st to 36th, Yale to Hudson -- was one, but was annexed by Tulsa. Tulsa used its water supply and much higher rates for out-of-city customers as leverage to bring new neighborhoods into the city.) But we do have neighborhoods with similar characteristics -- e.g., along Peoria north of 36th St. N. and the 21st and Garnett Area. Some are in better shape than others, but in many of them, homes that once housed families of four or more now house singles and couples. The density is no longer there to support the level of retail that once existed in these areas.

School quality is the major deterrent to attracting families back to these areas. In this case from Ohio, vouchers are giving young families the ability to have affordable housing and high-quality schooling at the same time.

(Hat tip: Brandon Dutcher. Crossposted at Choice Remarks.)

MORE: State Sen. Judy Eason McIntyre and State Rep. Jabar Shumate, both Democrats who represent north Tulsa, including the area I mentioned above, are receiving national recognition for their support for school choice in the Oklahoma Legislature. Here's syndicated columnist Star Parker's salute to McIntyre and Shumate. An excerpt:

No Child Left Behind allows parents to move their child to a performing district public school if the child's school is failing and does not improve for three consecutive years. But this provision is effectively meaningless because rarely is there an available public-school alternative.

The Tulsa and Oklahoma City School Districts have 7,000 students in such failing schools.

Graduation rates in Oklahoma City and Tulsa are 47.5 percent and 50.6 percent, respectively.

Legislation is now moving through the Oklahoma legislature that would allow a 50 percent tax credit to individuals or businesses contributing to a fund that would provide scholarships for low-income kids in failing schools to go to a private school.

The heroes here are two black Democrats -- Sen. Judy Eason McIntyre and Rep. Jabar Shumate. Going against the grain of their party, and against the Oklahoma union and public-school establishments, these brave souls are championing this initiative.

The bill is SB 2093, the New Hope Scholarship Act. Here's a rebuttal to some of the attacks against the proposal. And one of the sponsors, State Sen. James Williamson, explains the proposal in an op-ed in today's Oklahoman.

The best place to follow the school choice debate is at Choice Remarks, the blog of Oklahomans for School Choice.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on April 16, 2008 12:39 PM.

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