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Two Howard Counties - How Rapid Growth Can Increase Inequality

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Two Howard Counties - How Rapid Growth Can Increase Inequality

Rick Kohn

According to the 2017 Feasibility Report, Howard County has 12 elementary schools with Title 1 programs. Six out of these 12 elementary schools are in District 3. 

Title 1 is a program that provides financial assistance to local educational agencies (LEAs) and schools with high percentages of children from low-income families to ensure that the children meet state academic standards.

The 2017 HCPSS high school profiles shows that three out of the four high schools in District 3 have a Free and Reduced Meals (FARM) population of at least 26.7%.

In a previous analysis, it was demonstrated that the proposed redistricting woefully falls short of the criteria set forth in the Board Policy 6010 with respect to economic integration.

This discussion further expands on these concerns to ensure stronger adequate public facilities ordinance standards (APFO) are adopted and better moderate and low income housing policies are implemented such that the county begins rolling back what the current standards have begun to create - two Howard Counties. One where lower income families live and another where high income families live.

Segregation develops when the county repeatedly approves high-density low-income housing in certain neighborhoods, and prevents low-income housing from being provided in other neighborhoods. 

School segregation builds on these differences. Segregation by income occurs when school district lines are drawn to leave wealthy neighborhoods on one side and low-income neighborhoods on the other. It results in neighboring schools with starkly different demographics. 

For example, Howard High School borders Long Reach and Oakland Mills but has only 12% FARM students compared with 36% and 44% in Long Reach and Oakland Mills. Atholton HS has only 9% FARM students but borders Wilde Lake, Oakland Mills and Hammond with 40%, 44%, and 34%. These numbers were taken from the most recently published school profiles.

These segregated districts have resulted from years of redistricting while addressing the concerns of vocal members in wealthy communities. Low-income families may not have the wherewithal to consult experts, draw plans for their own communities or even have the time to review arcane policies for various reasons.

The County's fees-in-lieu policy of allowing developers to pay a fee instead of providing low- and moderate- income housing has been cited as another cause for the high FARM percentages in certain communities relative to others.

After redistricting is complete, many of the school districts will be open for additional development unless the county does something to prevent additional densification of neighborhoods.

The county allows further development wherever local school capacity allows it, but this is an inappropriate metric altogether. A school will be under enrolled whenever the district borders are drawn to make it that way. The magic of redistricting makes it possible to create schools with open capacity wherever desired just by moving district lines irrespective of population density. The county is basing development on size of the district relative to the school size, not on density of the housing already there.

It is evident that since 1970, there has been an increase in segregation in Howard County communities and schools. Development decisions are largely responsible for concentrating low-income areas in certain locations.

However, the way school district lines have been drawn has further exacerbated the problem. The Board of Education Policy 6010 is the prescription for the redistricting process, and economic integration is stated as one of the goals of the process. The proposed plan does not achieve this goal.

Over the past few decades, and especially in the last decade, we have seen more and more economic segregation of our communities and schools in Howard County. The "planning" at the county and school level has contributed to this dilemma. We need to consider the impacts of housing projects on potential economic integration before we approve these projects, and we cannot allow our school districts to be divided by income.