WASHINGTON, D.C. — New research from an education advisory firm evaluates the challenges involved in providing school transportation and pinpoints opportunities for improving service and cutting costs.
A slide deck report from Bellwether Education Partners, “The Challenges and Opportunities in School Transportation Today,” examines the scope and importance of the school transportation sector, analyzes the challenges that districts and contractors face when providing transportation services, highlights the critical decisions system leaders must make in allocating limited resources, and identifies opportunities for improving service and reducing costs.
The research focuses on six key challenges facing the school transportation sector:
• Regulatory landscape: The intersection of federal and state laws related to school transportation means that districts and contractors often operate in complex regulatory environments.
• Funding: State funding for school transportation is subject to legislative appropriations and has often been stagnant, requiring districts to offset costs by reducing service, delaying upgrades, or other means.
• School choice: With the growth of school choice options and complex enrollment patterns, more students are crossing town to get to and from school, which places new demands on traditional transportation models built around neighborhood schools.
• Data use: School transportation systems typically have access to less and lower-quality data than other transportation sectors, reducing their ability to provide service that is efficient and responsive.
• Safety: School buses are the safest mode of student transportation, but safety agencies and advocates believe they should include seat belts, and students may face other risks related to traffic and personal safety.
• Environmental impact: Diesel exhaust has negative effects on the environment and children’s health, but districts are often slow to replace older buses and make technological upgrades that could mitigate harm.
Despite these challenges, there are a number of opportunities to improve and innovate in school transportation, according to Bellwether’s research.
The firm recommends that states and districts invest in the tools and technology needed to make informed decisions about school transportation systems. States should provide adequate funding for school transportation services and prioritize capital investments — such as new buses and other infrastructure — that can lead to substantial long-term savings. Additionally, districts should consider innovative ways to collaborate on providing school transportation services, including partnerships among districts or improved coordination across sectors, according to Bellwether.
Bellwether also plans to release three policy briefs on Aug. 27 to supplement key components of the slide deck: one will cover school transportation and student safety; a second one will examine school transportation and environmental impact; and a third will review the intersection of school transportation, school integration, and school choice.
The new slide deck and Bellwether’s 2017 report, “Miles to Go: Bringing School Transportation Into the 21st Century,” are designed to serve as a fact base for policymakers, industry leaders, and others who want to improve their understanding of the school transportation sector.