Thursday, January 20, 2005

The Relationship Between Housing And Schools 

My friend Marc Fisher writes eloquently today about the positive impact the D.C. Housing Authority is having on protecting homes for low income residents as neighborhoods across town experience gentrification:

If developers buy into the Housing Authority's ideal -- one-third market rate units, one-third affordable units (for families on police- and teacher-level salaries), and one-third low-income housing -- the city will raze failed projects and start fresh. The result is at least one-for-one replacement of existing units for the poor, along with improved amenities (air conditioning, larger rooms), a more stable community and the promise of new retail and schools.

Any redevelopment raises the specter of the 1960s when the street protesters' cry was "Urban renewal is Negro removal." But at Henson Ridge, a pretty, 600-unit development taking shape along Alabama Avenue SE where the truly awful Stanton and Frederick Douglass dwellings once stood, 73 percent of former residents are coming back to spanking new houses. That's six times the national average rate of return.

However, the columnist continues, this urban renewal is not being matched by a replacement of failing schools. For example:

The city is moving to replace the violence-plagued Sursum Corda project near North Capitol Street, but the school system seems unable to revive adjacent Walker-Jones Elementary, where only 27 percent of the students read at grade level.

Mr. Fisher's concludes with a thought that I have expressed to others:

It's tempting to see each revolution of the turnstile in the superintendent of schools' office as comical. But it is downright tragic that this city's forward motion is limited by schools that should fill us all with shame.

Unfortunately, when it has come to school vouchers, a reform that if widely available would truly bring dramatic change to education in the City, you will not find a stronger opponent anywhere. It is extremely disappointing to listen to that point of view expressed by someone who obviously cares so much about Washington, D.C., who is a resident of this town, and who sends his own children to private school.

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