After 16,000 new people moved into the District last spring, its population rose to more than 600,000. Buildings in some of the most impoverished parts of the city had major face lifts. The Smithsonian Institute, U Street, and Adams Morgan attract those hungry for culture and knowledge. The nightlife still entices Wizards and Redskins to this day. If you are a young professional who wants a promising future in a thriving city, the District is for you. At least, until you want to start a family of your own.
In a recent Washington Post article, Lisa Ann Sturtevant, a researcher with the George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis called education “an Achilles heel of the District’s growth.” Enrollment in DCPS has steadily decreased for almost 40 years, especially with the establishment of charter schools. The University of the District of Columbia, the District’s only public university, sees an annual graduation rate of 8%. Jimmy Carter was the only American president to enroll his child in a D.C. Public School. After he spoke against school vouchers for impoverished families, President Obama enrolled his daughters into Sidwell Friends; a private school in Northwest D.C. DCPS consists of the highest costing yet lowest performing schools in the country. For many, this is not a place to raise a child, especially in tough economic times when a quality education is even more important. For the few who graduate from a D.C. public school and leave the District, it’s hard to come back.
There is worry that the revolution that put the District on the cover of magazines is slowing down. Fortunately that is not the case. Mayor Gray’s budget for fiscal year 2012 sees a combined $73 million increase in the combined public and charter school budget. Equipping longtime residents and their children with the tools for success must take priority over attracting implants and increasing population growth. Mayor Gray must see that improving education comes hand in hand with solidifying population growth. A job at the new Wal- Mart sounds good, but a government job or a job in a private sector sounds even better. For District families who want to give their child best, UDC must truly be the best and most affordable alternative to any other school of their choice. Attracting new comers sounds nice, but what about securing a bright future for those who already live here?
While it has not entirely bounced back from a population deficit propelled by increase of criminal activity in the 1980’s and 90’s and flight to the suburbs in the 90’s, city officials still tout this as a major achievement for a city that’s changing its image. There is a lot to celebrate, but the fact remains that people are RENTING and not BUYING. The District is forging a future for those who will have no affiliation with the District in the long term. Education has long been the answer to the complex question of how to make implants stay and improve the quality of life in the District. There is no greater incentive for an implant to raise a family here than to see the people who already live here leading great and prosperous lives beyond the confines of their neighborhood. To Mayor Gray – let’s make education the focus for 2012. Fix education and everything else will follow.