By Danielle Waidley
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation (H.B. 7045) greatly expanding Florida’s already pioneering school choice programs at the end of the state legislature’s 2021 session. This expansion will likely be a boon for parents and children looking for alternatives to conventional public schools. But more attention should be given to another unintended benefit of school choice programs: stabilizing neighborhoods and improving equity in housing prices.
The Florida legislation expanded several voucher programs to give families and students access to a range of education alternatives and school services, including private schools, transportation to public schools, tutors, summer or after school education programs, and more. A key provision was consolidating the McKay Scholars for Students with Disabilities Program, which served up to 50,000 students alone, and the Gardiner Scholarship into the Empowerment Scholarship. The expanded program can now support up to 175,000 low- and moderate-income students.
Academic research increasingly shows these programs benefit students directly through improved education outcomes.
But academic research is also showing they accomplish something else: They stabilize urban areas by giving families the opportunity to stay in their neighborhood while sending their children to schools elsewhere in the city.
More than two decades of research shows that families bid up prices for housing in neighborhoods and school districts with high-performing schools. This creates a price premium that limits access to schools for low-income households.
In theory, this effect is not necessarily a problem. Households who value high-performing schools will move to these districts, reaping the benefits of the public service they value. Those who do not want access to good schools, such as retired or childless households, are more likely to live elsewhere. All other things equal, the households “sort” based on their preferences.
Unfortunately, all things are not equal. Low-income families who want to give their children high-quality education cannot afford the higher house prices in wealthier neighborhoods with high-performing schools. These families live in less expensive areas where their children are zoned into low-performing schools.
School choice programs have the potential to break this link. In fact, research studying the neighborhood housing price effects of school choice has found these effects in New York City and Wake County, North Carolina, as well as in international contexts such as Seoul, South Korea and Oslo, Norway.
When school choice options such as vouchers are implemented, families don’t have to live geographically close to high-performing schools. They can live in more affordable housing while sending their children outside their neighborhood.
These benefits are on top of more and more research that shows school choice programs, on the whole, improve education outcomes by better matching students to learning environments that help them thrive academically.
*Danielle Waidley is research assistant in the DeVoe L. Moore Center in the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy at Florida State University majoring in economics and Spanish.