Perspectives on Student Transportation Policies and Implementation in Three School Choice-Rich Districts

Year: 2019

Author: Sattin-Bajaj, Carolyn

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The rapid proliferation of school choice policies across the U.S. and globally over the course of the past three decades has resulted in significant changes in the number and type of schooling options available to students. As school districts have adopted school choice policies, new questions have arisen about school transportation policies. States and local school districts have responded in a variety of ways to the issue of student transportation in the context of choice. These policies have different implications for the extent to which families can engage in choice and how schools respond. To date, there has been limited understanding of how school transportation policies are implemented on the ground and how differences among them may influence the local school choice landscape.

This paper draws on interview data collected from 26 district administrators, charter school leaders, charter authorizers, and stakeholders in New York City, Detroit, and New Orleans to explore how the people responsible for school transportation implement transportation policies and perceive its impact on their work and families’ school choices. First, I explore the challenges that district administrators, charter school personnel, charter authorizers, and other key stakeholders identify in association with implementing student transportation. These include the logistical complexity associated with managing transportation for large numbers of students, high levels of student mobility, safety concerns, and inadequate public transit infrastructure. Next, the paper reviews the costs (according to school personnel) that districts and schools incur when implementing school transportation policies and analyzes differences across choice contexts with distinct policies. District officials cited high special education busing costs and expensive, outdated contracts with bus companies among the most prominent financial burdens. For their part, charter school leaders identified additional personnel costs (e.g., bus monitors) and out-of-pocket transportation expenses as most costly.

Finally, the paper reviews school and district personnel’s perceptions of the ways in which transportation policies influence their schools’ student recruitment practices and how this relates to factors such as school location and accessibility of public transportation. I consider the implications of these findings for understanding the relationship between student transportation policies and equity in the context of school choice, and the paper concludes with a discussion of current and proposed innovations around student transportation in each of these cities and directions for policy work and empirical research in this area.