Thursday, December 19, 2013
A new article by Kristen Ulan examines the connection between home prices and school assignment zones, particularly in the context of school integration. She uses Charlotte, North Carolina, and Columbia, Maryland, as case studies to compare and contrast. Her introduction explains:
While price is a significant factor in purchasing real estate, more important is location. Different individuals have varied location requirements for their desired property. Younger individuals and couples without immediate family plans typically do not consider the assigned schools as much as a family with young children. Likewise, for those with young children, proximity to bars and nightlife is not as imperative as the local school district, neighborhood safety, and nearby children. The neighborhoods involved in this case note tend to attract families that care most about the school district and boundary lines. In Charlotte, North Carolina, there is a significant association between real estate prices and high school districting, whereas in Columbia, Maryland there is not the same association. Due to this, real estate prices for houses located in areas of proposed redistricting and border areas in Charlotte fluctuate and real estate in these areas tends to be underutilized. Because Columbia residents do not face the same fluctuation and uncertainty, there is greater incentive to fully utilize real estate by owners. The history of the areas suggests that this difference may lie in the different societal choices made forty years ago between integration or fighting integration in schools. Both counties' school board societal choice is still unfolding and the effects are much different in Howard County, which implemented voluntary integration, compared to Mecklenburg County, which fought to keep segregation all the way to the Supreme Court.
Her article offers fascinating and important analysis for anyone interested in the feasibility and politics of school integration. I would note, however, that it proceeds on a contested premise: that home location is tied to school assignment. As a practical matter, this is the case in the vast majority of districts. Thus, the premise has strong footing. But some integration policies disentangle home location from school assignment. In fact, that was exactly how the integration policies in Parents Involved v. Seattle Schools worked. Louisville, for instance, expanded the concept of neighborhood school. Students no longer had a single neighborhood school--traditionally the one closest to the home--but several from which to choose. This meant that a student's assignment zone was rather large.
This flexibility had an interesting effect on the housing market: there was not the same incentive to "buy into" a "desirable" neighborhood and, as a result, housing segregation actually declined. While the decline was small, the notion that housing segregation would decrease rather than increase in response to school integration is remarkable. My post on Greenville, SC, last month raises the same possibilities. Greenville has a completely open student enrollment process. All schools in the district are open to students from all locations. Historically, this type of plan has been dangerous for integration, unless specific controls and weights were built into the system. Somehow, however, Greenville has managed to make it work without weights. On the whole, its schools are effective and relatively integrated.
Ulan's article, nonetheless, makes an important contribution based on prevailing realities. The article's full citation is Kristen Ulan, How Uncertainty in the Redrawing of School Districts Affects Housing Prices, A Case Study: Comparing Neighborhoods in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Columbia, Maryland, 2 U. Balt. J. Land & Dev. 113 (Spring 2013).