Friday  •  January 15, 2021

Concerning HCPSS-Related Recommendations from the Howard County Housing Opportunities Master Plan Task Force

 

Shown on page 18-19 of this recently-released Howard County “Housing Opportunities Master Plan” report are some of the HCPSS school metric-linked recommendations by County Executive Ball’s Housing Opportunities Master Plan Task Force.

Let’s translate that this into clearer terms:

 

  • If a Howard County neighborhood’s assigned elementary school is deemed to be “low-poverty”, defined as a school whose Free-and-Reduced-Meal student population percentage is lower than 50% of the county average, then APFO restrictions on new housing starts can be thrown out the window and developers can build, build build, new affordable housing developments regardless of whether or not the local Elementary, Middle or High school is significantly overcrowded. 
  • If a Howard County neighborhood’s assigned elementary school is deemed to be “high-poverty”, defined as a school whose Free-and-Reduced-Meal student population percentage is higher than 150% of the county average, then APFO restrictions on new housing starts can again be thrown out the window and developers can build, build, build new market-rate (expensive) housing developments regardless of whether or not the local Elementary, Middle or High school is significantly overcrowded. 

There are currently 17 “low-poverty” and 15 “high-poverty” elementary schools in Howard County. How many neighborhoods this policy may impact will be eye-opening, once it’s shown on a map.

 

Don’t students perform worse in overcrowded schools? What about health & safety concerns? Equity concerns?  Have no fear: those in power will continue to “Lead with Equity” the Howard County way by just ordering another “comprehensive redistricting” and in the blink of an eye, everyone will be in-fighting, yelling at their Board of Education members and forget for awhile about who really has doomed their kids to an unstable, lower quality educational experience in ever-increasingly overcrowded schools.

 

Most sensible Howard County residents appreciate fresh, new housing developments as much as the next person, and recognize the need for more affordable housing in Howard County as well as the societal benefits of reducing “pockets of poverty”, but they understand that this should not be pursued not at the cost of increasingly overcrowded schools and frequent large-scale school redistricting.  Neglecting such costs is reckless and shortsighted.

 

What has made Howard County so popular in recent decades? The school system, hands down. Families have scrambled to move here because of the reputation of the school system, and all of the family-friendly communities, businesses, organizations & activities that have sprung up around it. This reputation will only last for so long, though, if development is not kept under control and in balance with school system limitations.

 

As HCPSS become more overcrowded, three significant detrimental effects are:
  1. Lower education quality for all students, particularly those most in need
  2. More frequent and larger scale school redistricting, which cause terrible disruptions, both socially & academically, yield an overall sense of perpetual instability to students & families, and most significantly affect the neediest students
  3. Lower overall physical & mental health & safety , resulting from crowded hallways & classrooms as well as stretched-thin resources & supports.

     

The detrimental effects of ever-worsening school overcrowding will undoubtedly result in a significant drop in the reputation of Howard County public schools, as the public becomes ever increasingly aware of the reduced quality of the school system.

 

What will that drop in school system reputation cause? People not wanting to move here anymore.

 

Is this really the wisest way to achieve long-term balance, and a reduction in growth & housing demand? By killing the “golden goose” (the school system) that made Howard County what it is known and respected for?

 

Howard County is at (or well past) the point of development right now where new housing starts, both affordable and “market-rate”/high-income, should really only be pursued when we have rock-solid plans and/or already-established infrastructure for handling the rise in student population result from these new housing developments without significantly overcrowding our existing schools. Building of new schools, public-private partnerships, whatever it takes to ensure that neither school overcrowding nor the need for large-scale disruptive redistricting will result from such new housing starts.

 

That was one of the main points of APFO, and frankly, as we can see, it didn’t go far enough over the past few decades. Now, in 2021, with all that the county and school system are facing, instead of tightening up APFO restrictions and making sure we do not worsen school overcrowding, the recommendations from this new Task Force seem to be attempting to completely eliminate school-capacity restrictions for building in certain areas, both low-income & high-income areas, with complete disregard to both the short-term and long-term effects to the county.

 

As well-intended as this plan may plan, it is reckless and short-sighted, and may just slowly-but-surely kill “the Golden Goose” (HCPSS), which is one of the primary elements that has made Howard County such a historically fantastic place to live.

 

 

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