Thursday, April 7, 2011

The wheels on the bus go round and round.

Providing busing for public school students is an extremely important public service, both historically and financially. Busing was instituted in the late 1800s when school attendance became mandatory and as various school districts began to consolidate. In the 1960s busing was a tool in the integration of school districts during the height of the civil rights movement.

The service of busing comes at great cost though. The Minneapolis school district spent over $2 in gas costs alone in 2007 and drive over 35,000 miles/day. (When gas was around $3/gallon or less) As much as busing was intended to serve the public good, it costs tax payers an enormous amount without citizens fully realizing the cost. Not only is there the cost of busing itself, but busing has contributed to urban sprawl with its incredible infrastructure costs.

Districts are required by state law to provide busing to students, and many of those districts require the service only for those living at least a mile or more from the school. This provision further allows people to move further from the city without having to fully pay for the cost of such a decision.

A past Strong Towns report looks at the question of "what if we got rid of the state mandate of providing school transportation?" Instead of providing a disservice to those living close to the school, or within a mile, and disproportionately subsidizing those living further away, (and being presumably wealthier), we charge a fee-for-service if you live outside of a certain distance from the school. Districts could then also funnel the money that is required for transportation into school programs and curriculum. We could actually be spending more on the education of our children and placing them in the classroom for a greater portion of their day, as opposed to sitting on a bus for up to two hours in some instances. We may actually realize better student performance and a more equal distribution of funds by reducing the service of busing.

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