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.
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 →
The largest system of mass transit in the U.S. isn’t the airline industry. Nor is it trains, or city buses, or even all those things combined. The largest mass transit system in America is made up of the nearly 500,000 school buses transporting students to and from school each day.
Despite innovations in technology, developments in clean fuels, and big changes to the way schools work in many communities, in most places, school transportation operates much as it has for decades.
The discussion, moderated by Bellwether’s Andy Rotherham, will feature:
Cindy Stuart, District 3 representative on the Hillsborough County, Florida school board since 2012, and current board chair. She also represents the school board as a voting member of the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization, the federally-established transportation planning body for the Tampa metropolitan area. This cooperative relationship between the school district and the broader regional transportation planning infrastructure is unique across the country and holds promise for a more coordinated approach to meeting the needs of communities and schools.
Mike Hughes, Assistant Director of Transportation at Boston Public Schools (BPS). BPS provides transportation to district, charter, and private schools in the Boston area — navigating a complex cross-sector system of education. Facing escalating costs and other pressures, the district has taken innovative steps to address significant challenges.
Joel Weaver, Director of the Chief Tahgee Elementary Academy (CTEA), a charter school located on the Fort Hall Reservation, owned by the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, in rural southeastern Idaho. CTEA serves students dispersed over a large geographic area, representative of the challenges many rural schools face in transporting students in safe, efficient, and cost-effective ways.
Kristin Blagg, a research associate in the Income and Benefits Policy Center at the Urban Institute in Washington, DC, where she focuses on education policy. She recently co-authored “Student Transportation and Educational Access” with Senior Fellow Matthew Chingos, a paper that explores the role of student transportation in school choice, profiling five choice-rich cities.
We rarely discuss school transportation, but its impact reverberates through the entire school system — raising issues of educational equity, student safety, cost-effectiveness, and environmental impact. Please join us as we explore these issues.