Safe, reliable, and equitable school transportation is essential for a strong education system. But too often transportation is sidelined in education policy discussions.
This is a major oversight. Here’s why:
Strong school transportation systems are absolutely essential for equitable access to schools. The average distance between students and schools has grown since the days of walking uphill both ways to school, and we know that low-income families are less likely to have access to a car or the scheduling flexibility to accompany students to and from school every day. Without safe, reliable school transportation solutions — whether that’s the bus, walking, biking, public transit, or something else — low-income students are more likely to be absent or late from school, spend more time on school commutes, or be put in unsafe situations.
Building strong school transportation systems will require new kinds of collaboration that go outside of schools’ typical partners. For example, the success of electric school bus pilots so far has depended on extensive collaboration among willing schools and districts, bus vendors, transportation operators, and public utilities. And for safe walking and biking routes to school to thrive, infrastructure investments from local leaders and public works agencies are essential. Forging these new partnerships will extend school transportation opportunities, but might also add more to schools’ plates.
New technologies and methods, like alternatively fueled buses and data-driven methods for mapping school commutes, show a great deal of potential. However, some of the most effective solutions are also costly, and the resources available for school transportation in many states and communities are simply insufficient to bring promising innovations to scale without compromising on educational essentials. Ultimately, substantial, focused investment will be necessary to bring about real innovations in the world of school transportation.
This week, Bellwether releases three new policy briefs to make sure school transportation gets the attention it deserves in wider education policy conversations:Continue reading →
For the past 20 years, only about 10% of students walked or biked to school. Back in 1969, that number was over 40%.
I have an op-ed today in Next City making the case for dedicated infrastructure and investment to help more students walk or bike to school and reap environmental, safety, and health benefits. But it will take real work for communities:
In order for more students and families to choose active forms of school transportation safely and confidently, they need support and dedicated infrastructure investments in and around schools. There are a few relatively low-cost solutions communities can implement to get started.
[…] More comprehensive solutions involve wider infrastructure changes like protected bike lanes, traffic-calming measures, and curb extensions to make streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists of all ages. Success can start at the school level, but local and state governments need to partner in this effort to really shift the walking and biking environment for students.
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.
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.
Even though school transportation receives little attention in the broader education debate, it actually plays a vitally important role in America’s school system. After all, to access the public education system, students must get to school safely and on time and be ready to learn. But providing transportation services that meet the needs of families continues to be a challenge for districts with limited time and resources.
1. There are nearly 480,000 school buses in operation in the United States, making school transportation the country’s largest form of mass transit.
2. The cost of school transportation is rising. For example, the average per-pupil cost of transporting a student at public expense grew from under $600 in 1980 to nearly $1,000 in 2015. This increase in cost is due in part to the decreasing share of public school students who receive transportation services.Continue reading →