Monday, December 19, 2005

Where Have All The Children Gone To Play . . .

As some you may know, I’m an affordable housing advocate. When I talk to local elected officials (and let’s use the Long Beach City Council as an example), I hear from some of them, “local government shouldn’t be involved in housing.”*

Well, here’s one reason they should care a whole lot more.

According to the Long Beach Press-Telegram, the Long Beach Unified School District has shelved plans to build two new schools due to declining enrollment. A middle and a K-8 school that were to be built with local bond money no longer qualify for state matching funds because of a recent enrollment drop, said Carri Matsumoto, executive director of facilities development and planning.

The district had planned to build a middle school, at 1777 E. 20th St., and a K-8 school, at 3230 Hill St., using a $295-million local measure voters passed in 1999.

The state would have picked up half of the construction and property-acquisition costs if the district had qualified under state funding formulas based on enrollment projections, Ms. Matsumoto said. But the district no longer qualifies for K-8 matching funds because it has lost more than 4,000 students over the past two years.

Now . . . let’s try and think . . . what could be causing a decline in enrollment?

Could it be the lack of affordable housing? That’s what district officials told the Press-Telegram on December 1. According to the front page article, “the trend may be the result of rising home prices driving families to cheaper housing markets in the Inland Empire and other states.” And, as Ms. Matsumoto tells us, high school enrollment remains strong. This means that Long Beach’s young families that are the ones that are being forced out or can’t afford to move here.

It’s not just the kids, the impact is much greater. I couldn’t even begin to count the ways. But a couple of easy examples are that if a school isn’t built, that means nobody is going to be hired to build it – no construction jobs. Nobody will be hired to teach at the school – no new teaching jobs. I sure do hear the Long Beach City Council, and all the mayoral candidates talk about bringing more jobs to our city. I guess those jobs won’t be education.

Sure, affordable housing isn’t the only reason there is a decline in enrollment in the Long Beach Unified School District, but it’s a B-I-G reason.

So, the question really is, is the decline in enrollment a harbinger of other things to come . . . or in other words . . . is this the proverbial canary in the coal mine?

Kosher Ham

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