The Twin Cities metro area appears to be an exception to the findings of a new Brookings Institution study that calls attention to the role of zoning restrictions and their impact on housing prices in preventing access by low-income and minority students to high-scoring schools
The study argues that poor families can't afford to live near higher-scoring schools because the housing costs too much, and that zoning limits help drive up that housing cost. .But that's less so here.
The study measured the gap between housing prices near schools with the highest test scores and those with the lowest. That gap is relatively high here. The 14-county Twin Cities area had a 24.5 percentage point gap between test scores for those two groups of schools.
Among 100 large metropolitan areas, that’s the 33rd biggest gap, which puts this metro area nearer the top end of the test score gap. Nationally, the average gap was 19 points.
But in contrast, our metro area ranks relatively low for zoning exclusivity and the housing cost gap. Nationally, housing costs an average of 2.4 times as much, or nearly $11,000 more per year, near the highest scoring schools, compared to its cost near lowest-scoring schools. But in our 14-county area, the difference is 1.93 times, or just under $9,200 annually. The gap ranks us 72nd, or relatively low among the 100 metros.
Meanwhile, in what may come as a surprise to those who remember the battles in the 1990s over access for low-income families to subsidized housing in the suburbs, the Twin Cities area ranked low on two crude measures of zoning exclusivity. One merely looked at the percentage of law firms with zoning specialsts. This area ranked 93rd by that score. Another measure uses data from a survey by the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania of local official attitudes and minimum lot sizes. The Twin Cities are ranked 45th for the 50 metro areas for which Wharton had data.
So if zoning or the cost of housing aren’t as powerful factors in keeping low-income families away from high-scoring schools, then why is there still such a gap between low- and high-performing schools in the Twin Cities? University of Minnesota professor Myron Orfield, who lobbied the Legislature and Metro Council to break down suburban zoning barriers and now heads the Institute on Race and Poverty
, argues that subsidized housing that can give students and their families access to suburban schools increasingly is concentrated in poor urban areas.