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School transportation cuts still affect families

School buses

Philadelphia may stop offering free bus passes to high school students who live within two miles of their school as part of an effort to close an $81 million budget gap.

The School District of Philadelphia is facing a budget shortfall of more than $80 million. Among the cost-saving measures being voted on: the District wants to stop giving free bus passes to high-school students who live within two miles of school.

Previously, students who lived more than 1.5 miles from school got free bus or train passes. That difference of half a mile could impact thousands of students, according to the District.

Paying for your kid’s trip to school can definitely add up. Before Thursday’s vote in Philly, public school mom Helen Gym, an advocate, worried about more parents paying bus fare for their kids.

“It’s $2.25 each way,” says the co-founder of Parents United for Public Education. Multiply that by two trips a day over a school year and she says a family, “would have to pay $810 dollars a year, per child.”

That’s the full cash price Gym is quoting, but even reduced token fares add up to hundreds of dollars out of parents’ pockets.

Still, the idea of state and district cuts to transportation support is hardly new. In fact, Michael Griffith with the Education Commission of the States says most transportation cuts came from the recession, and have waned.

“But they’re not going back to the levels before the recession,” he says. Griffith says states and districts want to put money back into other areas first, like teachers.

“So they’re looking to replenish those areas that were cut that directly impact student learning,” he says, “and there really isn’t the money available in most districts to go back and to put it into programs and areas like transportation.”

Marguerite Roza with Georgetown University says it’s all about trade-offs. She studies public education resource spending and says higher transportation spending in and of itself isn’t necessarily the goal.

“If you’re not spending the money on transportation, then you get to spend it on something else,” she says. “So is the higher transportation spending bringing greater student outcomes or is it bringing lower student outcomes ‘cause that means there’s less spending on math.”

Though, when subsidized school transportation goes away, families may have to do more math to get through it.

About the author

Kate Davidson is a regular contributor to Marketplace.

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