One of the reasons I decided a few years ago to get involved with a group opposed to a new Wal-Mart development on the edge of Sellwood was concern for the environment. A Wal-Mart super store would have have drastically increased automobile traffic though an otherwise pedestrian friendly neighborhood.
The same can be said of the impact of Portland's school choice and open transfer policies.
Think about it. If 20 to 40 percent of Portland's grade school children attend schools outside their own neighborhoods, schools they're not likely to walk or bike to, how many extra cars does that decision put on the road each school day?
Here are a couple of examples from the elementary schools nearest me:
- Llewellyn -- Out of the 411 children living in Llewellyn's attendance area, 135 (33%) choose to attend other neighborhood schools, focus option schools, or charter schools. In addition, another 67 who live outside the neighborhood attend Llewellyn. That makes 202 children who are probably arriving for class each day by automobile.
- Duniway -- (Duniway is the school I walked --or ran-- to every day for eight years.) With a high capture rate, only 32 (12%) of the neighborhood kids choose to attend other schools. But for 120 kids from outside the attendance area, Duniway is the school of choice. That makes 152 who again probably rely on cars to get to school each day.
- Lewis -- 129 (41%) of the 312 neighborhood children attend other neighborhood schools or focus options. Another 129 transfer in from other areas. That's a total of 258 who likely are automobile dependent.
In those three K-5 elementary school attendance areas, 296 students take advantage of school choice to travel ouside their neighborhoods to other schools farther away. How much farther away I don't know, but undoubtedly far enough to prevent them from walking to school.
Perhaps the two most egregious examples of the effect of choice on school attendance are the K-8 Sunnyside Environmental School and the K-5 Ainsworth Spanish immersion focus option. At Sunnyside, 62% of enrollment comes from out of neighborhood students. At Ainsworth, tucked away high up in the West Hills, 42% of students live elsewhere in the city.
It's been estimated that 40% of greenhouse gas emissions in the Portland area come from the tailpipes of motor vehicles. I find it problematic that school choice, in this era of global warming, puts more cars on the road.
Some school choice advocates are also car enthusiasts. Take the local libertarian think tank, the Cascade Policy Institute. Not only does Cascade promote unfettered school choice, it also has a program called the Wheels to Wealth Project.
That's a classic --and troubling-- example of pitting the environment against economic growth.