Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Housing Choice vs. School Choice?

I often get caught up wondering how so many stories make it print without referencing each other even, or especially, when the run in the same paper. Here are a couple painful stories from the weekend that beg to be read together at the very least.

First a seemingly minor news story on budget machinations in the Wilkinsburg School District encapsulate the failed state of education for many kids. See: Wilkinsburg budget cuts teachers, expands courses.  In a classic example of burying the lede, the headline seems to focus on some budget ephemera, but then has this remarkable line almost in passing:
The current high school schedule offers no math beyond pre-calculus, no upper level science, English or foreign language courses, no advanced placement or computer courses and just a handful of electives.
So what is the Mendoza line for secondary education in Pennsylvania?  Lower than most would expect for a school in the developed world.

Then there was this story:Section 8 housing vouchers lead to limited neighborhood choices. First off, why was that only a city-centric story?  Does the issue of housing end at the city's edge.. in the East End?  How far is the distance from Homewood, which is mentioned in the story, to Wilkinsburg? Cartographers will understand it is a trick question.

But beyond sheer pontification, what data is relevant? Maybe the trend in the number of kids in Wilkinsburg. Here is the trend for births in Wilkinsburg since 1990. If you skip over a jump in the most recent year, it is a trend that is among the worst in the region and can only foretell greater contraction into the future.

Then I thought that might not be quite fair and the question is how the Wilkinsburg trends compare in some greater context. So here is birth data indexed to 1990 for Wilkinsburg, the city of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County net of the city of Pittsburgh.

Now that jump in 2012 for births in Wilkinsburg could be part of a pretty big convergence with the trend for the city of Pittsburgh.  Maybe just an anomaly from the longer trend, but what if it isn't? So here we get back to the housing story and difficulty of some to find housing in the city of Pittsburgh.  Are all such folks finding housing options in other city of Pittsburgh neighborhoods? I bet not, which might explain what is going on in Wilkinsburg despite not only a barely functioning school district, but some a place charging some almost unbelievable tax rates. Merely a hypothesis, but do housing options trump school options?  At least in the short run? Or for those without greater options?  And does any of this relate to population trends in the city of Pittsburgh? Someone has to ask.


Anonymous BrianTH said...

Rental properties have reportedly been doing pretty well recently in Wilkinsburg.

It might be worth noting Wilkinsburg is on the Busway, and generally has retained pretty decent bus service despite recent cutbacks. Also, there are charter schools (and to a lesser extent private schools) to consider. Apparently the number of charter students in Wilkinsburg almost doubled from 2006-07 to 2012-13 (266 to 525), going from 15.7% of all students to 34.1% of all students. And interestingly, charter students were reportedly 94.4% white in 2006-07, but only 60.4% white in 2011-12 (last year for which I saw data).

None of this is to suggest the public school situation in Wilkinsburg is remotely close to acceptable. But when you add Transportation to Housing, and subtract Charter from School, it becomes a lot more plausible that H+T > S-C for a substantial number of families.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014 8:33:00 PM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

Sorry, I believe that 15.7% to 34.1% of all PUBLIC SCHOOL students. The data source I was using didn't report private school students.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014 8:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is Wilkinsburg still a dry town? If it is, I have a hard time seeing that business district turn the corner the way Butler St. has in the last 15 years, unless someone gets creative on how to make a scene materialize there sans bars. Galleries and BYOB restaurants, perhaps?

Tuesday, June 03, 2014 8:49:00 PM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

Yes, it is still dry. The CDC tried but failed to get a referendum on the ballot to change that in 2013, and will try again in 2015, when fewer signatures should be required.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014 9:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Disincorporate Wilkinsburg and fold it in to a larger municipal unit.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014 9:17:00 AM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

I'd personally love to merge Wilkinsburg into Pittsburgh specifically. But there appears to be a lot of opposition to that notion, so currently consolidation discussions have been limited to specific services (as of now, they have merged trash/recycling and fire, and there has been some talk about police).

Wednesday, June 04, 2014 6:19:00 PM  

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