School Choice & Charters

Study Finds Transportation a Barrier to School Choice

By Debra Viadero — July 13, 2009 1 min read

It’s one thing to choose a private school or a charter school for your child that is outside your neighborhood attendance zone; it’s quite another matter to figure out how to get the kid there and back each day.

According to a new survey report by the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington in Seattle, transportation problems prevent as many as one quarter of families from enrolling their children in schools of choice. The findings are drawn from a random survey of 600 parents in Washington, D.C., and Denver, Colo. (That’s 300 in each city.)

The results suggest that transportation is especially challenging for low-income families, 45 percent of whom do not own cars, or who own vehicles that are unreliable. According to the survey, one third of those families said they did not enroll their child in the school they preferred due to transportation difficulties.

The report’s authors—Paul Teske, Jody Fitzpatrick, and Tracey O’Brien—said they did not come across much innovative thinking in the communities they surveyed on how to remove transportation barriers to school-choice programs. So they proposed an idea of their own: If districts spend an average of $700 per student on bus transportation each year, why not give families a transportation voucher for that amount instead? Families might spend it, for instance, on public transportation, maintaining a car, buying bicycles, or organizing van pools, the authors write.

“Choice itself is designed to give parents a decentralized approach to schooling,” they write. “A more decentralized transportation function might also provide parents with more tools to make school choices that work better for them.” Is the big yellow school bus on its way to junk heap?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.