Education and D.C.’s Two Futures

Greater Greater Washington’s David Alpert had a great op-ed in Friday’s Washington Post outlining the crucial choice D.C. policymakers face: Will the city grow in ways that push out low-income and middle-income families, or in ways that maintain diversity and spread the benefits of growth to low-income and middle-class residents?

Alpert’s piece focuses, with good reason, on zoning and development issues, but I’d add that education plays a key role in answering this question: Building a city that can be home to diverse families–not just singles, childless or empty nester couples, and the very rich–requires both more housing stock to accommodate families and public schools to which they want to send their kids. As city leaders debate how best to build a system to do that, the possibility of future population growth must be part of that conversation. Too often, discussions about DCPS and charter schools assume a zero-sum game–that charters only grow by “taking” kids from DCPS. But if the city grows as it’s projected to, it will need a lot more public school seats–most likely in both charter and DCPS schools. Whether the city is able to provide a supply of quality seats that offer what both new and current residents want for their kids is a key question that will shape the city’s future–just as much as the zoning questions Alpert raises. But how city policymakers think about that question matters: if city policymakers deal with questions about the city’s schools starting from the assumption that the number of kids in the city is fixed, the resulting policy choices could make that assumption a self-fulfilling prophesy, by failing to support the growth in high-quality seats needed to attract and keep families in the city.