Exclusionary Zoning Denies Poor Access to Quality Schools

It's a big week for studies focused the relationship between location and educational opportunity: First, the Schott Foundation's report on education redlining in New York City public schools that revealed city policies and practices systematically deny educational opportunities to the districts and schools with high percentages of poor and students of color. Now, a study from the Brookings Institution links housing costs and zoning codes to access to high-scoring schools. 

The biggest findings:

  • The average low-income student in the U.S. attends a school that's ranked at the 42nd percentile. The average middle/high-income student attends a school ranked at the 61st percentile. That gap in access to high-ranked schools is wider between students of color and their White peers. 
  • Cities with high levels of economic segregation have a large gaps in access to quality schools.
  • Looking at the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S., the study found that it costs nearly $11,000 more per year to live near high-scoring schools than low-scoring schools, what the study calls the "housing cost gap." 
  • Cities with the least-restrictive zoning have significantly smaller housing cost gaps than cities with more exclusionary zoning policies.

As the study points out, getting rid of exclusionary zoning would reduce housing costs gap, thereby lowering the gap in access to quality schools. 

The results may not be particularly surprising, but it brings further focus to the issues of income-related education inequality and the policies and practices that perpetuate and increase it. Across the U.S., students from low-income families have less access to quality education, thereby curtailing their chances to both succeed academically and escape poverty. It's a cyclical pattern, one that gives the lie to the idea that "education is the great equalizer" or America is the Land of Opportunity. As the Schott Foundation report found, New York City is a prime example of how education opportunity depends far more where a student lives than on his or her actual abilities. 

You can check out the full Brookings report here. There's also a very cool interactive graphic of major metropolitan areas (screenshot of Boston below) as well as profiles of the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S. 

Like what you've read?

Then don't miss a thing. Join the thousands of students, parents, educators, and activists who already receive our latest updates and resources!