D.C. region gets bad grades on low-incomes kids' access to good schools

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Photo - Eaton Elementary School in Northwest D.C. (Examiner file photo)
Eaton Elementary School in Northwest D.C. (Examiner file photo)
Local,DC,Liz Farmer

The Washington region is among the worst in the nation at ensuring kids who live in federally assisted housing have access to quality public schools, a new report has found.

The report, prepared for the Poverty & Race Research Action Council by New York University researchers, consistently ranks the region, which includes the District, surrounding counties and parts of West Virginia, in the bottom tier of the nation's largest metropolitan areas in three main housing categories.

Those who receive low-income tax credits fared the best -- on average, those households live close to a school that ranks at or below the 34th percentile in reading and math proficiency scores. The Monmouth, N.J., area ranked first in that category with schools in the 66th percentile.

School quality near federally assisted housing
The Washington region ranks in the bottom half of most categories.
  Median proficiency
Type of housing percentile of Rank among
assistance closest school 100 largest markets
Housing voucher 20th 66
Public housing 3rd 96
Section 8 housing 9th 84
Low-income housing tax credit 34th 27

Those who live in public housing in the region fared the worst. Those tenants on average live near a school that ranks at or below the 3rd percentile in proficiency. The top rank in that category came from the Napa-Fairfield-Vallejo area in Northern California, where tenants live near schools that rank in the 75th percentile.

Philip Tegeler, a co-author of the report, said metro areas that ranked lower tended to have a longer history of public housing projects than newer cities.

"I think in the older, more segregated cities, you'll find a more stark pattern," he told The Washington Examiner. "There seems to be more access to higher-quality schools in the Western states [and other] places that don't have the same levels of black-white segregation and, quite frankly, don't have that long history of it."

He added that more research needed to be done on individual metro areas, but he hoped his study would encourage the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to invest more energy in diversifying its housing assistance.

"It's important to invest in low-income communities, but it's also important to give families choices outside those communities," Tegeler said.

Don Kahl, executive director of the Equal Rights Center in D.C., said the region's score for housing voucher recipients was especially disturbing.

"The voucher is portable so at least, in theory, an individual who wants to move in any four quadrants in the District so he can be near a good school can do that," Kahl said.

But in the Washington area, those recipients on average live near a school ranked at or below the 20th percentile.

"We're concerned about landlords, management companies refusing housing vouchers recipients based on the subsidy," he said.

lfarmer@washingtonexaminer.com

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