Contemplating future prosperity in Provo, I’ve been surprised at how strongly schools keep standing out as the missing piece of the puzzle. Though I wouldn’t be opposed to Provo becoming a hip urban center filled with child-less twenty- and thirty-somethings, long term economic development certainly hinges on families making the city their home. Moreover, I’ve heard many permanent residents in Provo express a desire to draw more families to the area (specifically who will buy homes).
But here’s some not-even-close-to-breaking news: Provo schools are terrible. I’ve pointed this out in past posts, and mentioned how that fact drives people to other parts of the state (or, also, to other states). Still, however, there is little or no discussion about the connections between economic growth/prosperity and good schools. So, let me tell a story about Glendora, where I grew up.
Glendora is a relatively upscale suburb of L.A. The population was somewhere in the neighborhood of 50,000 when I lived there and I don’t think it has changed dramatically since. Also, it’s a (grueling, miserable) hour drive from downtown L.A. and has no significant industry to speak of.
Anyway, when I was in high school, Glendora voted on a school bond. As a high school student I wasn’t deeply immersed in local politics, but I know that the bond basically required property owners to pay higher taxes, which would then go to the schools.
The bond was fairly controversial because Glendora isn’t just comparatively rich, it’s also kind of old. The city is and was home to many empty nesters and otherwise elderly people, many of whom were outraged that they would have to pay for the education of another generation of kids.
But still, the bond passed.
As I understand it, Glendora’s schools have had their ups and downs over the years, but throughout it all they have remained highly ranked. Again, remember that there is no industry, higher education, etc. in Glendora that compels people to live there. In a sea of similar suburbs, Glendora’s biggest selling point is its schools. That’s the main reason my family moved there when I was very young, and it was the reason lots of families did the same. I also don’t think it is unreasonable to say that if Glendora’s schools suddenly declined in quality the city would gradually shrink and become a ghetto, like many other Southern California suburbs.
The point here is that Glendora used taxation to better the city. I think that is an important point that people in Provo could learn. Sure, we all hate paying taxes and having less money. I know I do. But any family that has a choice will not move to an area with bad schools. Similarly, people will not move to places with dilapidated downtowns, bad roads, crumbling community centers, a lack of culture, etc. If these things do not exist, the city can create them. Provo did this with the upcoming recreation center. But whatever money is going to the schools is still not enough.
If there is any doubt the wisdom of this, I would again cite Glendora. While I know that contrasting it with Provo may be like comparing apples to oranges, many of the things Provo wants Glendora already has. Despite much steeper competition, stores in downtown Glendora are doing better than those in downtown Provo. The entire area doesn’t feel run down and slummy. The houses are well-kept. The people more prosperous. (While eating at a charming sidewalk cafe in Glendora this last weekend I was surprised at how much more foot traffic the area had, compared to Provo, and how the cars parked along the street were clearly those of established residents as opposed to beater college student vehicles, like the ones I see in Provo. Provo doesn’t need fewer college students, it needs more people willing like Glendora’s who are willing to invest in the community and consume it’s products.) In essence, Glendora invested heavily in one area, and is reaping the rewards of having attracted a desirable population in all areas.
I don’t want Provo to become like Glendora. I don’t want to live in Glendora (not by a long shot). But like so many communities in the U.S., Glendora offers an example of (a staunchly conservative) community pooling together, sacrificing, and working hard for the greater good. Until people in Provo do the same, our city will always lag behind.