Do public school choice options really work if students don’t have reliable transportation to and from the school they choose to attend?
Two recent opinion pieces raise this question—one at the heart of NACSA’s recent policy resource. In EdWeek, researcher Carolyn Sattin-Bajaj argues transportation policies are, indeed, vital components of ensuring equity within charter schools. In The Hill, policy director Ben DeGrow brings the question closer to home, looking specifically at challenges in Michigan.
School choice—which includes charter schools, in-district choice, and inter-district enrollment programs—has opened up invaluable options to students and families. However, without an intentional focus on equity, we risk leaving behind the very students many choice programs intended to serve in the first place.
Transportation has repeatedly been identified as a key barrier preventing school choice programs from reaching their full potential (e.g., CPRE, Ready Colorado, The Urban Institute). Yet it remains one of the trickiest hurdles to clear, for a variety of reasons. Circumstances differ so widely from community to community, which means there’s simply no universal solution. Public transportation availability, transportation quality, geography, population density, student mobility, as well as the number and variety of school options: these are just some factors that contribute to transportation challenges, and each factor is constantly in flux.
States, districts, charter networks, individual charters, and parents are trying all kinds of different solutions. In New York City, for example, the district must provide transportation for all students, regardless of the type of school they attend. The district relies on the city’s comprehensive public transit system, supplemented with yellow bus services. In New Orleans, charter schools are responsible for providing transportation, leading to some schools partnering to share bussing services.
Our resource, “The Case for Transportation in Charter Schools,” offers policy recommendations for authorizers and states to adopt to help ensure all students have adequate transportation to and from any and all educational options. For instance, state and authorizer policies should require charter applicants to address how they will ensure transportation needs are met. If the school does not intend to provide such services, applicants should be required to provide the rationale. Some schools may choose not to have transportation services—particularly if they aim to serve a specific, accessible community and wish to encourage walking—but all schools should be required to demonstrate that they’ve given adequate thought to the issue.
Authorizers can work with their portfolio of charter schools to innovate and experiment with alternative transportation models. In some states, statute defines how transportation services must be provided to charter students, but many states allow for significant flexibility, giving authorizers and schools room to innovate.
For nearly three decades, charter schools have been vital education avenues for students most in need of high-quality options. Authorizers are uniquely positioned to ensure that those students are equitably served as educational choice continues to mature.
Jason Zwara analyzes and develops charter authorizing policies as part of NACSA’s policy team. He tracks state and federal legislation and creates policy resources for members and advocacy partners. Have policy questions? Please reach out at [email protected]