In Tel Aviv, people may move to the suburbs for a variety of reasons – the impossibility of finding parking in the city and the high housing prices are two popular complaints – but not school quality. There are great public schools right in the city, including some non- or barely selective schools; the metro area-wide magnet classes for gifted children are located in the city and in some of its inner suburbs.
As one might expect, Tel Aviv is a high-income city: on a list of municipalities in Israel ranked by income, Tel Aviv is rated 8 out of 10 (higher is richer), where the only places rating 9 and 10 are a few exclusive gated communities and a single major suburb, Ramat HaSharon. Tel Aviv’s richer suburbs, to its north, are rated 8 as well; there is nothing to gain income-wise from moving, except perhaps that Tel Aviv is more diverse and has both super-rich areas and poorer areas while the suburbs are uniformly upper middle-class. As far as I can tell, it has always been the case – like France, Israel has a long history of housing the poor in the outskirts rather than in the inner city; this is not a recent case of gentrification.
Against this light, what Aaron Renn is writing about city schools is unsurprising. As American cities are getting relatively richer due to gentrification, their quality of public services, including schools, is improving, due to both more money and middle-class civic tradition. This process is incomplete and slow: because American cities’ recent history is of ghettoized squalor rather than gated opulence, many city schools are substandard and suffer from neglect, underfunding, and corruption, and this itself is a turnoff for prospective urban residents.
In effect, the areas that are already rich attract the rich and middle class; this should not surprise anyone. Corruption can be bought away with enough money, and underfunding is not an issue. New York’s suburbs lead the nation in school funding, which requires property taxes, and as a result, the six counties with the highest property taxes in the US are New York City suburbs; ironically, one of the reasons people move back to New York, which according to the ACS data is outgrowing the rest of its metro area, is that its property taxes are lower.
Urban activist Jonathan Kozol even wrote a book blaming discrepancies in school funding on inner-city school underperformance. His statistics, as of the early 2000s, showed about $11,000 per student in funding in New York, and $22,000 in its richest suburbs. Since then, Bloomberg has hiked school funding to nearly $18,000 per student, while the suburbs have not increased much, going up to $24,000 in Great Neck and $26,000 in Manhasset, two districts cited by Kozol for high spending.
Services are always good for the rich. In homogeneous high-income communities, there is no need for private security, private schools, and other excesses typical of the wealthy in poor areas. Instead, high housing prices act as a replacement for gates – and, incidentally restrictive zoning forcing housing prices up is a major component. Thus, public services are of high quality, even in areas that love nothing more than to yell at urban liberals for wasting money on schools.
Although the upper and middle classes are often still afraid to stay in the city with children past age six, this is declining. While the Israeli middle class can skip on the low-income suburbs and instead move to high-income ones, the American middle class can’t move into a city without dealing with poor people. When they do, it creates friction, as always happens when people suddenly have to deal with those who are different – for example, in New York, it involves separate schools, some good and some not, located in the same building.
The defining question for urban consensus governance is how to make sure the friction ends up resolving itself well, with good public services extending to regions that are not rich. Merely requiring integration of services does not solve much; the problem is more systemic. In Hawaii, the state’s status as a single school district led to school underperformance, and, as such conservative writers on urban issues as Michael Lewyn point out, school integration in American cities led the white middle class to escape to segregated suburbs and private schools, which offered a gated education experience. Clearly, changing governance boundaries without social change does not solve social problems much.