Austin-American Statesman

Written by TAAHP Executive Director, Roger Arriaga

Roger ArriagaThe Texas Education Agency (TEA) recently released its school performance ratings. For the first time, both school districts and campuses were evaluated with letter grades, A-F. Scores are based on standardized testing and cover several areas including overall school performance and student achievement.

A recent news story points out that in Central Texas, 14 percent of Austin-area schools with more than 80 percent of its students coming from low-income households received an “F” from the Texas Education Agency. Statewide, approximately 8 percent of schools with more than 80 percent of students from low-income households received an “F.” In comparison, of all the schools in Texas with 20 percent or less of students coming from low-income households, not one single campus received an “F” rating.

It’s not enough to assume that if you spend more per student, the problem will be solved. Poor performance is not necessarily an issue of school spending. Though a number of factors contribute to school performance, it boils down to factors at home.

The growing number of kids living in low-income households face obstacles at home that contribute to poor performance in school. The lack of affordable housing is at the top of that list. Cost-burdened, working families paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing costs must make hard choices. These families are just one catastrophic illness or car repair away from falling deeper into a downward spiral of financial hardship that trickles down to the most vulnerable members of the household: children. The issue is well-documented in studies such as one from The Urban Institute that shows children in highly mobile or unstable housing situations carry many problems to school and face numerous challenges to achieving positive academic outcomes.

These family strains affect test results. Parents struggling to pay bills are often working multiple jobs. By the time they arrive home, they are too tired or in some cases incapable of helping their children with homework. Studies have found that children in unstable or highly mobile housing situations score lower than stably housed children do on standardized tests in reading, spelling and math.

With economic growth also comes the reality of rents rising at record pace, forcing people to move in search of more affordable housing options. Children who move from school to school, often multiple times within a single school year, lose relationships with friends, teachers and administrators that are important for success.

Income-based affordable housing has long been recognized at the federal level as an effective tool to help families get a leg up on the economic ladder. When rents are affordable, stable and predictable, families are better able to provide stability for their kids. With many communities offering educational assistance and other services, income-based affordable housing is a resource for local schools.

For long-term success, it’s important to consider that more affordable housing is needed outside historically impoverished areas. Author and life coach Tony Robbins once said, “People who succeed have momentum. The more they succeed, the more they want to succeed, and the more they find a way to succeed. Similarly, when someone is failing, the tendency is to get on a downward spiral that can even become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

The housing crisis is one of limited supply. Though the realities of increasing housing costs inhibit affordable housing from being built, it’s vital that when opportunities exist, decision-makers do everything they can to make it happen. Our next great leader, entrepreneur, inventor or doctor might be that diamond in the rough who simply needs stable housing and a supportive community to succeed. All we have to do is make it possible for them to shine.