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FACT Most New Students come from New Homes

I have been working on community issues in Howard County for over a decade now. Every year, there are the same arguments made by the development industry, its supporters and benefactors, to ease regulations, lower fees and generally try to influence the Council and County Executive to make it easier and faster to build as much new residential housing as possible. There are many important issues to discuss, like what growth is smart and needed, and what is not. Today, I am going to take on the ridiculous notion that is yet again being bandied about that the source of overcrowding in the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) is not largely, residential development.


Each year the HCPSS does a study to forecast enrollment in each school. The percentage of new students, defined as sourced from development, includes only those from homes that are no more than 15 months old! Density advocates define all the rest of the total of new students, as coming from “resales”, meaning homes that didn’t have student enrollment being sold to those that do. We can’t specifically define resales or regulate them, so saying most enrollment comes from there, makes a good argument to ease development regulations. Problem is, the argument that most students come from resales doesn’t hold water.


For years, just analyzing this chart, on my own, as an Economics major with a Masters in Finance, I could see how this claim did not make sense. This year, I decided to go to the creators and County officials who utilize the chart, and get confirmation of how I believed it was being derived, what it means and what it DOES NOT mean. My historical beliefs about how this data is compiled was verified.


Jeff Bronow with the Department of Planning and Zoning (DPZ) and Timothy Rogers with the HCPSS both confirmed that the number of new students from “new construction” versus “resales” is calculated as follows:


WHAT IS THE DATA SOURCE?


Each year, there is a list of new students who are enrolled for the first time in the HCPSS. Within this list, all those that came from a new home with an OCCUPANCY PERMIT dated from September 30th to October 1st that year, are labeled from “new construction”, per Mr. Rogers. The rest of the new students are broken down into a few other categories, such as apartment turnover and a projection of “resales”.


WHAT DOES “NEW CONSTRUCTION” MEAN IN THE CHART?


It is noting ONLY the number of new students that year, who came from a home with an occupancy permit no more than than 15 months old, from the time of analysis in December each year.


WHAT HAPPENS TO THE LABELS GOING FORWARD?


The following year, new students who remain from the prior year, are placed together in the “stable cohort” category without retaining the “new construction” source label in the system, and the analysis starts over.


Obviously, students stay in the system, many for a long time, and the label of having come from development does not get retained. Mr. Rogers confirmed that the chart does not at all suggest how many actual total students are enrolled. “The number (or percentage) of currently enrolled students that ever moved into an existing (or new) home is not something we calculate”, he said.


THEN HOW DO WE DEFINE STUDENTS FROM RESALES?


Density advocates define the percentage of students in the system from the resale category, versus development, as 100% minus the percent of new students from homes less than 15 months old in this annual snapshot chart. This is highly inaccurate and leaves a large portion of the “new development” source of students lumped into the “resales” category. For example, someone could buy a brand new home, not have students for the first 15 months, then have students later. These are not defined as sourced from new construction. Even homes we know didn’t have students, and then sold to those with students, could be homes that are maybe 2 years old, or a bit more, a rational definition of “new home” still, those are also defined as a “resale” enrollee source.


So, we have “NEW” homes defined as brand spanking new units, none over 15 months old. Then, the label is not retained going forward, never looking at a total, which can vary each year. The percentage of students coming from rationally defined new construction is vastly under-estimated, and the resales category is vastly over-estimated. In recent years, summaries of this data have pegged "new construction" as sourcing 38-46% of new students.

Taking into account the types of enrollment described that is being shifted in definition, it is obvious that a large majority of the students in the HCPSS have come from new residential development. This defined set can be identified and regulated to be held off while capital projects are moved forward to service all.


We can and will talk about all kinds of issues in development when addressing fees, affordable housing supply needs, what is an improper “taking” of private property rights, how long APFO actually halts projects, and more. There are myths abounding in all of these topic discussions, but can we put this resales bogus argument to rest already? The “resales cause school overcrowding” argument does not hold water.

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