Author Archives: Phillip Burgoyne-Allen

As More Districts Create “Autonomous Schools,” They Need a Balanced Approach to District-Wide Services

We have written multiple posts in recent months about the spread of “autonomous district schools,” which occupy the middle ground between traditional district schools and charter schools. These models allow district schools to use some of the same freedoms as charter schools, while also remaining part of the district and receiving a range of district services, like access to district facilities, transportation services, and enrollment systems. 

But, as we explain in our new report, “Staking out the Middle Ground: Policy Design for Autonomous Schools,” districts vary widely — and confusingly — in their approaches. Some districts mandate which services their autonomous schools must use, while others create a structure for these schools to opt into or purchase certain district services. This can lead to a complicated balancing act between easily accessing these services and preserving schools’ autonomy to make decisions about how to best serve their students. 

three women school leaders sit around a tale with colorful writing and markers

Autonomous school leaders in San Antonio, TX: Regina Arzamendi (Principal, Young Women’s Leadership Academy), Delia McLarren (Head of Schools, Young Women’s Leadership Academy), Andrea Pitts (Principal, Young Women’s Leadership Academy Primary)

Below are three lessons from our research that policymakers should consider when crafting autonomous school policies to improve the ways that districts relate to and support these schools:

Accessing district facilities can be a powerful incentive for autonomous district schools.

Facilities are a substantial cost for charter schools, which often lack access to taxpayer-funded facilities and, on average, spend about 10% of their per-pupil funding on facility space. Autonomous district schools, meanwhile, are typically housed within district-owned facilities. This arrangement eliminates one of the most important barriers facing school leaders who want to establish and operate a school with more decision-making power. However, accessing district facilities can also limit school leaders’ ability to make decisions about where their schools are located and whether a particular building provides an ideal setting for educating students. Districts interested in autonomous school policies, especially those involving external partners, need to consider how autonomous schools will be matched with facilities and what impact their location might have on other elements of school operations like transportation and enrollment.

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If Cities Want Robust School Choice, They Need Robust Public Transit

More and more cities are becoming “high-choice” districts that provide students with many school options beyond the one assigned to their zip code. In places like DC, New York, and New Orleans, families can choose from a diverse array of school types, including traditional district, charter, and private schools.

But providing a wide range of school options for families also presents a related challenge: how to get kids to and from schools that are across town, rather than across the street.

School transportation plays a critical — and often overlooked — role in high-choice districts. Students in these places may experience longer commutes, but families may not have the resources or capacity to transport students across town on their own, making access to school choice inequitable. And for districts, providing the level of transportation service needed to support myriad school options can be an untenably expensive and logistically complicated proposition.

As a result, many high-choice districts, including several of those profiled in Bellwether’s Eight Cities project, leverage existing municipal public transit as part of their school transportation strategy. For example, in Washington, DC, the district does not provide any yellow bus service for general education students, with limited exceptions for certain student populations. Instead, public, charter, and private school students ages 5-21 who are DC residents can ride for free on Metrobus, DC Circulator, and Metrorail within the city through the “Kids Ride Free” program. Students can use their public transit passes as many times as they want and at all hours of the day.

New York City uses a combination of yellow bus service and public transit to provide transportation for public, charter, and private school students. Students are eligible for either yellow bus service or free public transit passes if they live a half mile or more from their school. The district provides yellow bus service for some students in grades K-6, as well as students enrolled in public schools of choice that live within the same borough as their school. All NYC students who live a half mile or more from their school are eligible for free public transit passes. Student MetroCards can be used on subways and buses for three trips and three transfers each school day, enough to travel to school, to an after-school activity, and then back home. Continue reading

Media: “The Red Lights Stopping Yellow School Buses from Going Green” in WIRED

Today, I have a new op-ed in WIRED about what can be learned from recent programs piloting the use of electric school buses. These buses are better for the environment and students’ health, but currently make up less than one percent of the 480,000 school buses operating in the United States.

The piece was informed by research from our recent report, “From Yellow to Green: Reducing School Transportation’s Impact on the Environment,” which examines several concrete strategies for making school transportation more environmentally friendly, including transitioning from diesel school buses to electric ones. Continue reading

Media: “Valley school bus driver shortage continues” on WFMJ

Yesterday, WFMJ in Youngstown, Ohio ran a story on local school districts struggling to hire enough bus drivers for the new school year. Reporter Glenn Stevens interviewed me about the need for more state funding to help address these driver shortages. Here’s an excerpt from the television segment:

Is there anything that can be done on the state level to help solve the problem of retaining bus drivers?

National education analyst Phillip Burgoyne-Allen of Bellwether Education Partners said state policymakers need to take steps to help local districts that can’t afford to help themselves.

“States need to step in by increasing overall funding for school transportation. States can help provide more support for districts so they can afford things like raising wages for school bus drivers in order to compete with other sectors,” said Allen.

Watch the full video on WFMJ, and check out our recent report, “The Challenges and Opportunities in School Transportation Today,” to learn more about driver shortages and the school transportation sector.

Media: “5 Things to Know About America’s School Bus Driver Shortage — What States Can Do About It” in The 74

I have a new op-ed at The 74 on five things you need to know about the ongoing school bus driver shortage. The piece was informed by research from our recent report, “The Challenges and Opportunities in School Transportation Today,” which serves as a fact base for policymakers, industry leaders, and others who want to improve their understanding of the school transportation sector.

An excerpt from my op-ed:

Districts are turning to a variety of strategies to try to meet driver needs. They are hosting job fairs to recruit bus drivers, creating their own driver training programs or increasing driver pay. Some are even attempting to train teachers to become licensed bus drivers. Carmel Clay Schools in Indiana offered teachers $18,000 to get behind the wheel. These efforts are admirable but are not always feasible for cash-strapped districts, and they can distract from schools’ primary mission of educating students.

[…] Addressing school transportation issues like driver shortages will require policy changes. State policymakers should increase funding for school transportation and support investments in new buses and technology than can reduce costs and lead to long-term savings. Without such changes, qualified drivers will continue to choose jobs in other industries, and students and families are the ones who will suffer as a result.

Read the rest of my piece at The 74, and check out the full report here.