Portland Public Schools Lobbies for Housing Bill to Support “Desegregation”

House Bill 2001 would allow duplexes, triplexes and quad into single family neighborhoods for Portland and other Oregon cities bigger than 25,000 people.

An inner Portland neighborhood. (Walker Stockly)

Portland Public Schools is taking novel approach to the problem of school segregation.

Officials with the district are lobbying for the high-profile housing bill that would allow duplexes, triplexes and quads into single-family neighborhoods in Portland.

In Portland, as is the case across the country, most public schools admit children based on their home address. Efforts to increase the racial and economic diversity of schools nationally have ranged from lotteries to giving priority to low-income children to busing.

But PPS is now lobbying for House Bill 2001 on the basis of creating diversity within neighborhood housing.

"We talk a lot about the value of neighborhood schools, but one fact that is often left out of the conversation is that the student populations of our neighborhood schools are a direct reflection of the housing options available in the surrounding neighborhoods," said Courtney Westling, Director of Government Relations for Portland Public Schools, in written testimony for a June 11 hearing.

"As a result, access to those schools is limited by families' ability to afford a home. Exclusionary zoning leads to economic segregation of schools – and – as a result, racial segregation. Why is the student population of one PPS school 14% white while another three miles away is 79% white? One reason is exclusionary single-family zoning."

Portland Public Schools' elementary school range from Rosa Parks, which had an enrollment that was 14.5 percent white this last school year to Abernethy, which had an enrollment that was 84.8 white. (Abernethy is less than 8 miles away.)

"There is ample research to show that student outcomes improve when schools are more balanced by race/ethnicity and income," she writes. "Any measures that support desegregation of housing will work hand in hand with the Student Success Act that the Legislature recently approved."

The bill passed out of the Joint Ways and Means of Committee this afternoon.

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.