1. New development is not driving school overcrowding.
With the possible exception of Clarksburg, the surge in school enrollment faced by MCPS in recent years is attributable to turnover in housing built decades ago.
2. Moratoria have failed to solve the overcrowding problem and cut off a source of funds to build schools.
Some argue that even though turnover is largely responsible for overcrowded schools, the moratorium serves a useful purpose in generating political pressure to solve school capacity shortfalls, and that the threat of a moratorium will force elected officials to focus on the issue.
The short answer is we tried it and it didn’t work. The Walter Johnson, Blair, Northwood, and Einstein clusters all went into moratorium in July 2019 despite real estate developers warning that housing development projects in these areas would be delayed or killed. The deadline came and went, the projects were put on ice, and no funding for capacity expansions was accelerated from any source.
A moratorium also makes it more difficult for MCPS to deal with their capacity issues because impact taxes help fund the cost of capacity projects. The Planning Board has proposed adding additional payments in overutilized clusters that would require higher payments (utilization premium payments) in more crowded school clusters, but the idea is the same: new development pays more than its “share” and stopping development cuts off a needed supply of funds for the school system’s other needs.
The fact that moratoria are allowed to take effect despite their impact on development reveals the flaw in an implicit premise of the moratorium policy — namely that real estate developers will find a way to get schools built rather than see their business grind to a halt. The truth is that developers often operate in multiple jurisdictions, and they raise money to finance their projects from investors who are choosing among opportunities in every part of the country and even the world. Developers don’t like seeing their projects held up after they have spent time trying to get them lined up, but ultimately most of them don’t need to be here because they can acquire land to develop somewhere else. Montgomery County taxpayers have more to lose by stopping new housing construction than real estate developers, school board members, or any other group.
3. We are not producing enough housing – and moratoria make the housing supply problem worse.
Our school impact fees, and moratorium policy are damaging our ability to provide the housing our residents and economy need.
The reasons for our lagging housing production are many — including high costs of materials, shortages of skilled labor, and constraints on the availability of land suitable for development — but impact fees for schools are certainly a contributor.
A comparison of Montgomery County’s rules to the approach taken by our peers and competitors in the region is telling. We have the highest school impact payments in the greater Washington region except for Loudoun County, which is in a stage of its evolution where greenfield development is the norm.