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Intersection Ahead: School Transportation, School Integration, and School Choice

Phillip Burgoyne-Allen
Bonnie O’Keefe
Jennifer O’Neal Schiess

Today, more states and districts are attempting to address segregation and inequity among schools by expanding families’ ability to choose from a variety of school options, regardless of where they live. But counteracting the forces of residential segregation and giving students access to more schools requires robust transportation options. As more students travel across town — rather than across the street — to attend school, a more complex and expensive school transportation system is necessary. Cover of "Intersection Ahead: School Transportation, School Integration, and School Choice" by Bellwether Education Partners, August 2019

Unfortunately, school transportation is often an afterthought in district decision-making processes and policy debates about integration, enrollment, and choice policies.

In “Intersection Ahead: School Transportation, School Integration, and School Choice,” we identify three school choice models that focus on creating integrated schools, provide case studies for each, and examine their implications for school transportation:

  • Magnet schools, which may or may not be selective, enroll students from larger geographies than traditional public schools. Because magnet schools typically attract students from many neighborhoods and provide transportation at no cost to families, they present unique transportation challenges for districts.
  • Diverse-by-design charter schools are explicitly committed to student diversity in their mission or design and typically have achieved a certain level of diversity within their actual enrollment. Some diverse-by-design charters prioritize transportation investments, even where it is not required, to achieve their enrollment and diversity goals.
  • Controlled choice district enrollment allows parents to rank their school choices while controlling for certain levels of school diversity. District features like geographic size, the level of segregation across communities, and the distance between those communities shape controlled-choice systems and the transportation services needed to provide equitable access to schools.

Key recommendations for policymakers and other education leaders include:

  • States should provide adequate overall funding to support school transportation systems, ensure that transportation funding levels are comparable across school sectors, and explore new ways to incentivize equitable transportation via funding.
  • Schools and districts interested in supporting integration and choice should consider transportation approaches — like depot models, where some students transfer buses at certain stops, or multi-district or multi-charter transportation partnerships — that can support robust integration and choice strategies.
  • Education, transportation, and housing leaders in local communities should share insights and information with each other to make informed decisions about school transportation, and work together to pursue comprehensive approaches to transportation and integration.

To be sure, school transportation alone is not a panacea to segregation or inequitable access to high-performing schools. However, if states, districts, and schools want to balance the dual goals of school choice and school integration, furthering their commitment to and investment in school transportation is a necessary first step.

Download the full report here or read it in the viewer below.

This is part of a new series of policy briefs on school transportation. The other two are:

  1. From Yellow to Green: Reducing School Transportation’s Impact on the Environment
  2. School Crossing: Student Transportation Safety on the Bus and Beyond

These policy briefs build on our 2019 slide deck “The Challenges and Opportunities in School Transportation Today,” our 2017 report “Miles to Go: Bringing School Transportation into the 21st Century," and our 2017 video "Better Buses: Three Ways to Improve School Transportation, in Under 3 Minutes."