OPINION: Time to fund transportation for all California students

Christopher Schiermeyer and Mark Becker in EdSource, May 12, 2022.

Gov. Newsom’s May budget revision and state’s projected $68 billion surplus present a historic opportunity to tackle disparities in education while helping children and youth recover academically and emotionally from the Covid-19 pandemic. We should start by ensuring all California students have transportation to get to the classroom safely, on time, and ready to learn.

California currently ranks last in the nation in the number of students bused per capita — with only 1 in 10 students taking a bus to school — due to severe, persistent underfunding of transportation programs.

Home-to-school transportation benefits both students and our local communities. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, students are 70 times more likely to get to school safely if they take a bus instead of traveling by car. When widely used, school buses can free parents from an additional stop on the morning commute, reducing traffic and preventing more than 20 million tons of carbon and pollution from being released into our neighborhoods each year.

School districts would readily expand transportation programs with funding that fully covers program costs. Widespread school busing would increase attendance, making it easier for districts to support students’ academic success and mental health, and fully covering transportation costs would free up more funding for programs such as crucial mental health supports.

More than ever, getting students to class every day, on time, is critical to helping students make up the moments lost during the previous two years of stress, isolation and learning disruption.

However, since the early 1980s, state funding for home-to-school transportation has declined, becoming an ongoing hurdle for districts across the state, and many have been forced to give up due to funding deficiencies. By failing to fully reimburse transportation costs and provide schools with a cost-of-living allowance, the state has steadily forced local educational agencies to eliminate or divert funds from other essential student programs to offer transportation.

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