Last year, WRAL reported that 20 new residents move to Durham every day, totaling around 7,000 new people per year. This makes it the fourth fastest growing city in the United States.
For the most part, these thousands of new Durhamites are young, highly-educated, middle and upper middle-class families drawn to the Triangle’s many academic institutions and rapidly expanding tech industry. This shift in demographics is linked to massive urban revitalization projects, which have literally reshaped Durham’s landscape. However, the cost of this economic prosperity is the displacement of lower income people from their neighborhoods. This is due to rising property values, in a process known as gentrification.
Anthony Aguilar is a sophomore at Riverside who has lived in Durham for his entire life. “When I was 7 or 8 years old, I lived in apartments by Horton Road,” said Aguilar. “In my very last year there, they started renovating the homes. The landlord said we could still live there, but at a higher price.” Anthony’s family disagreed and decided to move to a house nearby.
Durham policymakers are working to find a balance between urban development which increases property value while managing the impacts it has on existing communities. Programs to prevent evictions and build affordable housing have been set in motion, but it may take years for them to come into effect.
“[I see changes] maybe in 30 years or so,” said Aguilar, “but I don’t see any changes happening right now.”
Gentrification has had both a positive and negative impact on Durham Public Schools.
“When property values go up, the amount of taxes that schools have access to goes up, too,” said Riverside assistant principal Craig Carlson. “Despite the unfortunate consequences of gentrification, it is ultimately working to provide more money to the school system.”
The influx of higher-income families is also influencing the rise of charter schools in Durham. Their prestigious reputations are more attractive to many families than DPS schools, despite the wide array of special programs offered by Durham schools. This privatization of education has numerous effects on DPS.
“Middle class and white families, in particular, choose charter schools at a higher rate than families of color,” Riverside social studies teacher Rebecca Stone said.
This contributes to de facto segregation in Durham’s school system. Although 50.3% of Durham’s residents are white, they only make up 19% of DPS students.
“Where are all the white kids?” said Ms. Stone, looking around the cafeteria.
Additionally, the growing popularity of charter schools is costing DPS money.
“You can see it in the numbers; we lose a lot of our funding to charter schools,” said Carlson.
DPS allotted $4,252 per pupil last year. As public schools like Riverside lose students to charter schools, their budget shrinks. Already underfunded, DPS struggles to pay employees and maintain buildings, creating a vicious cycle of putting public schools at a disadvantage.
Students aren’t the only ones being drawn away from public schools. Many underpaid teachers and staff are leaving the profession, the state, or moving to charter schools, which offer more lucrative salaries.