New strategies are needed to cope with a spread of poverty in the Washington area's close-in suburbs and hyperactive growth on its western edge, said Alice M. Rivlin, chairman of the D.C. financial control board, concluding a conference yesterday on the region's future.
But the region is too divided politically to accept powerful new metropolitan governing agencies to tackle such problems, with the exception of transportation, Rivlin added.
"We're not going to get metropolitan government any time soon," she said. Instead, she called for additional joint action by the District and neighboring cities and counties on specific issues such as job training, special education and a cleanup of the Anacostia River.
Success with small, "confidence-building" efforts could prove to voters and political leaders that regional cooperation works across jurisdictional lines, said Rivlin, former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve and now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Rivlin spoke after a presentation of several Brookings reports documenting the expansion of poverty into the District's close-in suburbs.
The spread of poverty is accelerating middle-class flight to the Washington region's perimeter, worsening crowding and congestion there, said one of the report's authors, Myron Orfield, a Minnesota state legislator who is president of the Minneapolis-based Metropolitan Area Research Corp.
The findings give both inner and outer suburbs--and the District--cause to cooperate in creating more jobs and affordable housing near the region's center and in better planning on the perimeter, Orfield said.
Orfield's analysis included maps of elementary schools in the Washington area showing the percentage of children from poor families eligible for government-subsidized meals. Of 53 schools in the region where at least half the students met this poverty test in 1996, 39 were in the suburbs, primarily in Arlington and Prince George's counties. In an additional 35 schools in Fairfax and Montgomery counties, at least one-third of the students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, Orfield said.
Poverty levels within elementary schools are a powerful indicator of a community's economic and social future a generation ahead, Orfield said.
"Monolithically poor schools in central city or inner-county neighborhoods with a large number of students in poverty are streams moving toward failure, with currents that reinforce antisocial behavior, drifting, teenage pregnancy and dropping out," Orfield's report said.
But Darlene Mickey, chairman of the Arlington School Board, said the spread of poverty from schools to communities was not inevitable. Although the county's population of lower-income students has risen rapidly, the county's voters continue to support school funding increases.
"We've been able to put money into our schools. . . . We can educate all our kids," she said.