We need to recognize that reliable transportation is critical as magnet schools, private schools, and charter schools in Nevada strive to increase the number of lower-income students they serve.
Depending on public transportation, unfortunately means that sometimes the only thing that can be depended on are problems. One of my closest friends shared with me her experience when she and her husband first moved to the Las Vegas Valley. Her husband used public transportation when he was working for the plumbers and pipefitters union. He only used public transportation on his days off and remembers the struggles it caused. He had to find other means of transportation to get to work, because he knew if he was using public transportation he would be late.
Residents need to be able to count on reliable, affordable transportation. Without having access to reliable transportation, it limits employment options for residents. Their choices are narrowed down to what is near where they live.
Reliable public school transportation is a vital element for a healthy school system. The public school district transportation system should be a safe and effective way for students to travel to school. Without a dependable school bus system, students and parents are left with little options, especially families whose neighborhood school is one that persistently struggles with the quality of education.
In their recent report published by EdChoice, Transporting School Choice Students A Primer on States’ Transportation Policies Related to Private, Charter, and Open Enrollment Students, Michael Q. McShane and Michael Shaw explain that school transportation is inextricably linked to school options. We need to take a look at what we know, what we need to know, and what we can do to improve.
- What Do We Know?
We know that currently there is not an option for a school options transportation system in Nevada.
McShane and Shaw share with us plenty of evidence that shows when students travel for school, they attend markedly better schools than their peers. Interestingly enough, this is still true among students who attend schools of choice. Students who use transportation to travel farther than their peers, tend to go to a higher-quality school than their peers, even if their peers are also attending a choice school.
We also know that there is a shortage of school bus drivers in Nevada. The process to become a licensed school bus driver in Nevada is lengthy and filled with regulations.
The problem is complex, however a few key takeaways are private and charter schools, as well as out-of-boundary schools, do not receive any funds that could allow them to implement a transportation system, there is a bus driver shortage, and because of regulations there seems to be no solution in mind other than a typical school bus.
- What Do We Need to Know?
We need to recognize that transportation is critical as magnet schools, private schools, and charter schools in Nevada strive to increase the number of lower-income students they serve. Nevada’s charter school community as a whole has made improving this disparity a major goal, and it is a central tenet of the State Public Charter School Authority’s strategic growth plan. When comparing demographics of students at Nevada’s State-Sponsored charter schools and all of Nevada’s public schools, the biggest disparity has been found among FRL students. Currently 65% of students at Nevada’s public schools qualify for free and reduced lunch, where only 35% of state-sponsored charter school students qualify.
Transportation can be the single biggest equalizer for lower income families who do not have safe and ready access, and so do not have the same options for schooling. Offering transportation would allow lower income families more private school options.
The report from EdChoice compared transportation available for private and charter school students in a state-by-state summary. 31 states have made transportation funding or services available to charter students, with 17 of those states mandating that charter school student transportation funding is either equal, or roughly equivalent, to public school district students. Nevada is currently one of the 20 states that do not offer transportation services or funds to state-sponsored charter schools.
EdChoice’s breakdown of their state-by-state comparison for private school transportation shows us that “…29 states have provisions to provide transportation for private school students. Of those states, seven mandate transportation services or funding at levels equivalent or roughly equivalent to those of public district school students.” Again, Nevada is one of the 22 states that do not offer transportation services or funds to private school students.
- What Do We Do?
It’s time to take a look at what other states are offering. By comparing our services to theirs, we can find ways to fill in the gaps we currently have, which may mean working with school districts to collaborate on a transportation plan.
In Colorado, for example, if a charter school’s charter includes a provision for transportation, the charter school and the school district collaborate to create a plan to provide school district equipment to transport charter students.
Another thought worth considering is loosening some of the regulations that are required for transporting students, specifically when it involves charter and private schools. Ride sharing is ever increasing in popularity, and might prove itself to be a feasible option that saves money, if policy changes were made to allow for other options than just a standard school bus.
Currently, rigid state regulations governing where school bus drivers receive their training are also worth examining to explore possible alternatives that could add flexibility without compromising safety provisions.
As the RTC struggles with losing revenue as more and more riders turn to ride sharing, perhaps partnering with the RTC might be a solution. There is a wide variety of possibilities to explore. Could the RTC create routes that would benefit students attending charter and private schools? If they did, would it increase their revenue? Perhaps charter and private schools could partner with the RTC in a way that cuts down the costs for schools, and still increases revenue for the RTC.
Schooling transportation is a big issue to solve. However, as we work together as an education community to improve equitable access to quality schooling options for all families, finding solutions will be vital.