The latest research on school choice and charters indicates that two-thirds of 18 urban cities recently studied nationwide still lack free public transportation to and from school for students, especially those in lower-income families.
The Center for Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington Bothell released its report analyzing how the cities – which ranged from New York City to New Orleans, Los Angeles to Houston, Washington, D.C. to Chicago, and Boston to Kansas City – are responding to increasing school choice options for students, provided by both school districts and charter schools.
The report Stepping Up: How Are American Cities Delivering on the Promise of Public School Choice?, concluded that ensuring transportation is working for all families should be a component of any school choice or charter system reform when addressing student access to a high-quality education.
Researchers asked three basic questions of the urban areas, one of which was if all students have access to a high-quality education. The researchers surveyed 3,200 parents in eight of the cities and discovered that over 30 percent of low-income families making below $35,000 a year said they have more difficulty finding transportation options during the school choice and charter application process.
That rate fell to about a quarter of households that make between $35,000 and $75,000 a year and 20 percent for parents making more than $75,000.
The study showed that only Boston, New Orleans, New York City, Washington, D.C., and Camden, New Jersey offered access to free transportation to all students attending district choice or charter schools. CPRE added that community leaders in nearly every city studied said that a lack of transportation prevented low-income families from being able to access better school options.
CPRE also found that limited public transportation systems in Camden and Oakland, California make it very difficult for high school students to take a city bus to get to class. Meanwhile, families in Atlanta and New Orleans reported safety concerns.
CPRE found that most of the 18 cities studied do not utilize strategic planning of school sites. CPRE concluded that perceived or real barriers impede school district process, which can include lack of data or access to facilities.
The report suggested that education leaders could enter agreements with other city agencies on improving public transportation and housing options to improve school siting.
The research did find that nearly every city studied has improved how it informs and engages families during school consolidations and closures.
CPRE also found that only three cities (Denver, Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey) provide consistent and school-specific information on special education services, which can include transportation per the student Individualized Education Program.
Editors note: An earlier version of this article insinuated that the CPRE study concluded two-thirds of all large cities in America lack free public transportation options to district choice or charter schools.