Portland tries to keep poorer families in city schools


The City Council presented a plan to slow the decline in school enrollment by helping poorer families continue to live in gentrifying neighborhoods.

The $1.6 million package includes rental assistance, gap mortgages and grants to parent and neighborhood groups.

Portland has lost 11,000 students in the last decade as poorer families have moved to cheaper areas. The wealthy people moving closer to downtown often send their children to private schools.

The trend has cost the school district tens of millions of dollars a year in state money, so keeping families in neighborhoods is critical for the health of the district, said Tripp Somerville, policy director for the Portland Schools Foundation.

"Every time a kid leaves school, a check goes with it," Somerville said.

Commissioner Erik Sten on Wednesday presented three contracts as the first specific steps in what he calls the Schools, Families, Housing Initiative. Commissioners voiced approval for the project, and the council is expected to take action next week.

"This is the money the city would spend anyway on housing, but we've linked it to school policy," Sten said.

Most of the money, $950,000, will go to the Portland Schools Foundation for grants aimed at promoting neighborhood schools, so newcomers will decide to send their children to them. The grants could be for anything from repairing broken windows to designing an after-school program.

The two other components are pilot projects.

One provides $450,000 in rental assistance for families with school-age children in schools with high student turnover. Lolenzo Poe, assistant to Multnomah County Chairman Ted Wheeler, estimated the program will help 80 families avoid eviction and keep their children in the same school.

The other provides $200,000 for a cash reserve, allowing the Portland Housing Center to offer about 40 below-market second-mortgages to help first-time home owners bridge the gap between the money they borrow and the house they want.

"It allows us to deliver new home ownership deals for about $5,000 apiece," Rich Rodgers, an aide to Sten. "The boost for the school from student enrollment more than exceeds the city's expenditure."

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