School districts across the country are implementing a change that proponents estimate will save their schools anywhere from $300,000 to $2.5 million over the course of just a few years or less.
Sounds great, right?
Not if you’re a student who relies on the bus to get to school.
From California to New Jersey, school districts are looking into – or have already approved – budget cuts that include nixing bus transportation, either partially or all together.
The Merced Union High School District in California, for instance, approved budget cuts in March to eliminate much of its bus routes, including laying off 19 employees. But bus drivers – whose employment is directly affected by this cut – remain primarily concerned about the students.
According to KFSN, an ABC station in Fresno, the bus drivers’ union says its main concern is student safety and continued education.
Think about it. What happens when students are forced to walk several miles to and from school? And when it’s still dark out, raining or snowing, or if they’re scared to be alone in certain neighborhoods, what will happen?
Absenteeism and dropping out of school all together are very real repercussions of this drastic measure.
In Elmwood Park, NJ, recent budget cuts will force about 900 public school students to find alternative transportation to school, and the town is also considering imposing a busing fee of about $50 per month for routes not cut. For low-income families, this may be a choice of affording lunch or a ride to school.
Could there be benefits, though? It may be a good thing for students to learn how to rely on public transportation, possibly instilling habits that they carry into their working adulthood. Carpool programs is another low- or no-cost alternative. And with the money saved from eliminating bus routes, after-school programs or technology upgrades in classrooms that would benefit all students might be possible.
Measuring the environmental and health effects of eliminating or cutting back on busing is a tricky one.
According to the Environmental Defense Fund, most buses are powered by diesel engines that actually pollute the air inside the bus, and the California Air Resources Board found that school bus trips can increase children’s daily exposure to black carbon up to 34 percent, compared to regular passenger cars.
Although there are many district and state guidelines that mandate a variety of retrofit options to help make buses cleaner, what’s worse on the environment? A single bus carrying 50 or more children, or up to 50 separate passenger cars to transport each child individually?
The reality for many is riding the bus is the safest form of transportation, and many parents don’t have any other way to get their children to school.
This article also published in EVO magazine.