Scholarships to Encourage Kids to Attend School in Low-Income Neighborhoods?

Here’s a thought. Instead of busing underprivileged kids to wealthy suburbs, how about sending kids from wealthy households to private schools in low-income neighborhoods?

Some might say, “No way, I’m not sending my kid into a dangerous neighborhood just to attend a private school.” But what if a scholarship program could gentrify neighborhoods by encouraging parents to move to or stay in lower-income areas and send their kids to nearby private schools?

Residence as a determinant of school district has been a factor in the middle-class movement out of urban areas. Urban schools have declined in quality as a result of urban flight, and the surrounding neighborhoods have become blighted as the schools become increasingly dysfunctional. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The Community Protection and Revitalization (CPR) scholarships aims to help decrease concentrated poverty, crime, and unemployment in communities that are threatened by urban flight. In a new brief, Bartley R. Danielsen identifies how more multifaceted reforms can not only improve educational outcomes for students but also increase opportunity on a larger scale for more Americans.

Many observe these problems and incorrectly attribute the plight of urban districts to bad school-district leadership. Bad leadership is not the primary cause of urban schools’ problems. If leadership could solve this problem, some urban district would have already solved it. Further, it is not reasonable to believe that all urban districts always have bad leadership. Instead, the plight of urban districts is a natural equilibrium condition that results when school assignments are based on residence.

Danielsen, an associate professor of finance and real estate at North Carolina State University, notes that historically, methods of addressing poverty in the education system have included moving kids — and often their entire family — out of poor neighborhoods through section 8 housing vouchers, and more recently, school choice vouchers.

These vouchers are often assigned by lottery or means-testing, but that method does nothing to actually fix the community that is being abandoned. The peripheral effect doesn’t just cause repercussions to the neighborhood left behind, but to wealthier communities that see rents and regulations go up in response to voucher families moving in.

An interesting argument Danielson makes is that a lot of areas that could benefit from these scholarships may be lower income, but that doesn’t mean they are bad places. Many families already live there, but decide to move when their kids are school age because they want them to attend a better quality public school. But dropping parochial or private schools into these areas and offering scholarships would keep those families in place.

Danielsen’s design for a CPR scholarship is aimed at not only keeping public money in the areas where it does the most good, but indirectly benefiting communities by attracting businesses that wish to be near quality schools. In other words, the scholarship not only is to ensure a good education, but to ensure resources are assigned to poorer neighborhoods.

You can read his proposal, but do you think that putting good schools in struggling neighborhoods and paying families to send their kids there could work to revitalize those neighborhoods?