Successful charter school attracts families to blighted community

California case study shows how choice programs can drive relocation, spur urban renewal

INDIANAPOLIS — EdChoice, a national nonprofit organization that promotes state-based educational choice programs, today released a case study out of California about a successful, arts-intensive charter school that has helped attract and retain families to a formerly blighted neighborhood, further evidence that choice reforms improve urban communities.

The authors of Renewing Our Cities: A Case Study on School Choice’s Role in Urban Renewal examined the relocation patterns of families with children enrolled at the Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA) in Santa Ana, Calif. This study looked at residence location choices for 7,000 students who attended the school between 2000 and 2014, and it focused specifically roughly 1,200 families who relocated after a child enrolled in the school.

The researchers found that families who already lived near the school were substantially less likely to relocate than those farther away, but families who did relocate were strongly attracted toward the school’s location. Furthermore, since the school was established as a charter in 2000, the area surrounding it has been revitalized, and the local crime rate has fallen dramatically. The school’s effect on family relocations has been commensurate to attracting a 2,200-employee business to the downtown area.

“When families are buying a home, one of the first questions they always ask is ‘how are the schools?’ The perceived quality of public education in a neighborhood has historically been a huge factor in relocation. ‘Good’ schools drive up property values, making it harder for lower-income families to access them,” said EdChoice President and CEO Robert Enlow.

“This case study shows that a quality choice school—one where students can attend from anywhere—actually attracted new families to a once-blighted community and helped spur urban renewal. What’s happened in Santa Ana could be a roadmap for other cities looking to revitalize neighborhoods and drive economic development,” Enlow said.

Dr. Bart Danielsen, the lead author on the study and a professor at North Carolina State University, said it may be important to note that OCSA is a school that specializes in the arts and offers more than 150 public performances and events each year.

“The attractive power of this school may be related to its many after-hours activities that draw families and patrons back into the city, where they eat at local restaurants and shop at local businesses,” Danielsen said. “Still, it’s clear there’s something happening here, a gravitational pull toward a successful school that’s helped breathe new life into a formerly ailing neighborhood.”

Click here to listen to Dr. Danielsen discuss his report with EdChoice’s Drew Catt.

Click here to read the study.



EdChoice is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to advancing full and unencumbered educational choice as the best pathway to successful lives and a stronger society. EdChoice believes that families, not bureaucrats, are best equipped to make K-12 schooling decisions for their children. The organization works at the state level to educate diverse audiences, train advocates and engage policymakers on the benefits of high-quality school choice programs. EdChoice is the intellectual legacy of Milton and Rose D. Friedman, who founded the organization in 1996.