It seems like common knowledge that a big part of what motivates where people live is the quality of schools. That’s why voting for the upcoming Families and Education Levy is just as important as other things urbanists support that more directly affect transportation, open space, or land use. If we have better schools in our city, Seattle will attract more people, creating the density we need for a vibrant sustainable city.
A recent study looking at residential choice found that
School quality has a significant impact on households’ residential location choice. In particular, households whose heads have college education are likely to locate close to school districts with exemplary ratings.
Not exactly shocking information. But most of us who groove on the density thing or who are opposing the tunnel or supporting transit don’t get all that involved in making our schools better. Many of us get more active when we have kids in Seattle schools, but many of us who don’t have children don’t even do that.
I used to work for the Washington State School Directors’ Association as a lobbyist years ago, and I did that long enough to learn that the way we pay for schools is seriously flawed. We need to take apart the whole school financing system and put it back together again. Teachers aren’t paid enough, there’s too much bureaucracy, and even though we’re constitutionally obligated to prioritize it, we’re not fully funding eduction.
So when our urban schools don’t work, or even if the perception is that they don’t work people will pay more for housing in places that have better schools. Here’s a bit from another study on how people make trade offs on schools:
Households with school-aged children are attracted to locations with high school quality and high-income neighbors, while choosing older houses (with more bedrooms). In other words, they make a trade-off by choosing older houses—less expensive homes in the housing market—in order to live in these preferred locations. Second, middle-income households with school-aged children are more likely to choose these same preferred locations, but they tend to choose older and smaller houses with more rooms. As expected, their relatively limited incomes seem to stimulate the trade-off between locationand housing quality.
This study was looking at housing quality, finding that people will sacrifice quality to get close to good schools and other things that improve social status. I’d argue that if we looked at issues of quality beyond number of rooms we’d find that location would be a significant sacrifice. In other words, quality includes the distance a family has to drive to work and family and other things in order to live close to good schools.
The idea that people move to sprawling exurbs for the schools is not new, but the idea that sprawl prevention includes investing more money in educational infrastructure isn’t often made. I’d go a step further, bad schools in dense urban areas can help contribute significantly to sprawl by inducing households to move to locations that induce more driving and therefore push demands for more highways. That’s why a vote FOR the levy is a vote AGAINST sprawl.
The current Families & Education Levy has already helped thousands of Seattle’s kids. Since 2005:
- Levy-funded middle school students show a 21% increase in meeting math standards, and a 13%increase in meeting reading standards;
- The 17,410 students who used school-based health clinics funded by the Levy have fewer absences, higher GPAs, and are less likely to drop out of school;
- Over 40,000 kids received a range of physical & mental health services critical to success in school and life.