August 28, 2019

Three Lessons From Our New Briefs on School Transportation and Safety, Choice, and the Environment

By Bellwether

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Safe, reliable, and equitable school transportation is essential for a strong education system. But too often transportation is sidelined in education policy discussions.
yellow sign reading "SCHOOL BUS STOP AHEAD"
This is a major oversight. Here’s why:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

  • In “Intersection Ahead: Transportation, School Integration, and School Choice,” Phillip Burgoyne-Allen, Jennifer O’Neal Schiess, and I show how families face barriers to attending schools outside of residentially segregated neighborhoods when they don’t have access to equitable and efficient school transportation systems. Our brief focuses on three school models that can advance both choice and integration goals, but require careful consideration of transportation needs: magnet schools, diverse-by-design charter schools, and controlled choice enrollment.   
  • Student safety is the first priority of any school transportation system, but safety considerations look very different depending on how students get to school: bus, car, bike, or on foot. In “School Crossing: Student Safety on the Bus and Beyond,” Alex Spurrier and I look at trends in school commutes, and discuss key safety considerations for different modes of transportation, from seatbelts on school buses to safer sidewalks. Recommendations include a menu of solutions for different school and community environments, and emphasize collaboration among school leaders, families, and policymakers. 
  • Diesel-powered school buses and cars making the commute to school emit millions of tons of harmful greenhouse gases into the environment, which hurts the planet and children’s health. In “From Yellow to Green: Reducing School Transportation’s Impact on the Environment,” Phillip Burgoyne-Allen and I discuss the environmental impact of different forms of school transportation, and the pros and cons of different environment impact reduction strategies. Our brief takes a closer look at electric school buses, which hold a lot of promise, but have hit financial and implementation snags in pilot programs. 

These new publications add to Bellwether’s existing body of work on school transportation policy, including last month’s slide deck “The Challenges and Opportunities of School Transportation Today,” and 2017’s report “Miles to Go: Bringing School Transportation into the 21st Century.” 
You can join the discussion on Twitter under #schooltransporttoday.

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