by Dr. Terry Stoops
Former Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
The Poverty and Race Research Action Council recently released a study that examined the quality of schools in the neighborhoods that Housing Choice Voucher recipients choose. In theory, those who receive federal housing vouchers should use them to relocate to “better” neighborhoods with higher performing public schools. But the study concluded that most do not. Authors Ingrid Gould Ellen (NYU) and Keren Mertens Horn (UMass-Boston) write,
In brief, we find that assisted households as a whole are more likely to live near low-performing schools than other households. Surprisingly, Housing Choice Voucher holders do not generally live near higher performing schools than households receiving other forms of housing assistance, even though the voucher program was created, in part, to help low-income households reach a broader range of neighborhoods and schools.
In a ranking of the 100 largest MSAs, Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill ranked 39th in the median proficiency percentile rank of schools closest to Housing Choice Voucher holders. Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill, NC-SC was 47th and Greensboro–Winston-Salem–High Point was 65th. In other words, Housing Choice Voucher holders in all three metropolitan statistical areas live closest to schools that have relatively low academic proficiency rates.
One thing to keep in mind is that children may not attend the school that is closest to their residence. Researchers did not account for school assignment zones and policies, including choice, charter, and magnet schools, that allow parents to send their children to higher performing schools outside of their chosen neighborhood. Indeed, the study suggests the need to provide public and private school choice opportunities to low-income families that are satisfied with their neighborhood choice but dissatisfied with their assigned school. More importantly, if the housing voucher program is not producing the intended result, then why does the federal government continue to fund it?