NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Education Connection In Urban Sprawl

November 16, 1999

Vice President Gore decries what he calls urban sprawl -- the development of suburban and rural lands at the expense of wilderness. But analysts point out that the flight from inner-cities has coincided with the quest by parents to find decent public schools for their children.

So instead of just throwing money at the sprawl problem, wouldn't it be better to discourage what might be called education flight by upgrading city school?

  • According to a USA Today analysis, nine out of 26 major U.S. cities saw their populations decline between 1996 and 1998.
  • Education Week's annual report "Quality Counts" examined the performance of fourth-grade students in urban and suburban schools and found that in all but two states suburban students scored better than their urban counterparts -- in some cases significantly so.
  • For example, 27 percent of students in urban school districts in New Jersey scored at or above the basic level on a reading test -- while 73 percent of suburban students scored at or above the basic level.
  • Nationwide, 43 percent of urban students met or beat the basic level -- versus 63 percent of suburban students.

As sprawl spreads, so does the decline of schools. Those suburban school districts on the edge of cities that were once considered excellent see their districts decline from good to mediocre and even to poor -- driving those families that can afford it even further out.

Gore wants to spend $700 million to restore urban parks, protect open space and clean up old industrial sites. Analysts are urging him to rethink that and back plans to provide parents with vouchers so their children can attend high-quality schools -- and maybe education flight and urban sprawl will take care of themselves.

Source: Donavan M. Wilson (National Center for Policy Analysis), and Merrill Matthews Jr. (USA Radio Network), "End Urban Sprawl? Improve City Schools," Investor's Business Daily, November 16, 1999.


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