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Building more homes means crowded schools, right? Not so, study says

A study rebuts the idea that housing growth strains schools.
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A study rebuts the idea that housing growth strains schools.

It’s long been a truism thrown about during suburban housing debates: More homes in a town means more kids in the schools.

But is it true?

Not really, according to a study from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.

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The regional planning agency, which generally advocates for more suburban housing development to counter the high housing costs in Greater Boston, combed enrollment data for 234 school districts across the state and found no correlation between growth in the number of housing units and growth in the number of students in public and charter schools.

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Indeed, the MAPC found that school enrollment fell from 2010 to 2016 in most districts in Greater Boston, with an overall drop of 2 percent.

Enrollment was down 7 percent in 23 “developing” suburbs, such as Ipswich and Franklin, and 3 percent in 43 “maturing” suburbs, including Acton and Braintree.

But it grew 7 percent in 16 districts at the core of the region — including Boston, Cambridge, Chelsea, Everett, Arlington, and Watertown — as many of those municipalities attracted more families.

In most cases, the MAPC argues, this all has little to do with housing development.

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Hopkinton, for instance, added 935 housing units from 2010 to 2016 — an 18 percent increase in its housing stock — but its schools added only eight students. Meanwhile, Revere’s student population grew by almost 20 percent, with virtually no new building.

“There is little real connection between housing growth and student growth,” said Marc Draisen, the MAPC’s executive director. “Yet impact on schools is one of the biggest arguments we hear against new housing in many communities.”

It’s a common refrain in a variety of places. Some Brookline officials, for instance, pointed to growing school enrollment last year as an argument to halt affordable-housing development. Fierce debates have flared up from Cambridge to Plymouth over whether schools can absorb large numbers of newcomers moving into condominium and apartment developments.

Towns that do have growing student populations tend to be close to job centers and fall into one of two categories, the report says.

Some have strong school districts, which make them attractive to affluent families, who bid up home prices — places like Brookline, Lexington, and Lincoln. Those towns could use more housing to meet the demand, the MAPC says. Others — including Everett, Revere, and Lynn — have lower test scores but are relatively affordable.

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Most towns, however, have aging populations and relatively stable prices. They have added some housing but few if any students, as baby boomers’ children have aged out of schools, while younger families have been slow to move in.

There’s not much reason, Draisen said, to believe a little more development will flood the schools with children they can’t support.

“Building apartments is not what causes kids,” Draisen said.

Tim Logan can be reached at tim.logan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bytimlogan.