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Report Links State's Test Score Gaps To Restrictive Housing Laws

Low-Income Families Can't Find Affordable Housing Near Top-Performing Connecticut Schools


April 19, 2012

A national report that ties test scores to zoning policy has ranked three Connecticut metropolitan areas as near or at the top in the country for the worst test score gaps, the most economically segregated schools and the most restrictive zoning policies.

Jonathan Rothwell, a senior research analyst with the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings' Metropolitan Policy Program, explained Wednesday that in most metropolitan areas, the only way to attend a high-scoring school is to live in an expensive neighborhood.

But some city and town zoning laws make it harder than others for low-income families to find housing in neighborhoods with high-performing schools.

Rothwell's research found that the Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk area and surrounding suburbs ranked first in the country for the widest gap in state standardized test scores between the schools attended by the average low-income students and those attended by middle or upper-income students. In addition, research showed the area had the least economically-integrated schools.

The Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford area ranked second in the study, and the New Haven-Milford area ranked fourth.

"We wanted to look at some of the reasons why the housing costs are so much more expensive near the good schools in certain parts of the country," Rothwell said.

Rothwell said they found zoning policy that restricts the development of affordable housing tends to drive up the cost of housing near high-performing schools.

"It appears that zoning laws are playing a major role in limiting access to high-performing schools for low-income families," Rothwell said.

While zoning law has been studied intensely, the report said, this is the first national report to link zoning data with school test score data. Rothwell said that old states with industrial pasts such as Connecticut tend to have the most restrictive zoning laws.

The news was no surprise to David Fink, policy director for the Partnership for Strong Communities in Hartford. Fink said that only 31 cities and towns in Connecticut have housing stock with 10 percent or more that is considered affordable. That list includes Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven and other cities and towns that "tend to be the most over-burdened [school] districts," he said.

"What we've done using zoning laws in Connecticut is to create a de facto apartheid," Fink said. "We have walled in a lot of low- and moderate-income people into a limited number of towns. It's not surprising that we have the achievement gap. We have limited the opportunity for a lot of these kids because we have hemmed them in."

Connecticut was one of the first states to develop a strong industrial economy, Rothwell said, and it was a magnet for migrants.

"Many affluent residents moved out to the suburbs trying to escape those high-density living situations," Rothwell said. They passed restrictive zoning laws to "preserve a quasi-rural lifestyle. Those patterns have persisted over many years."

The full report is available at tinyurl.com/7k228ns.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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