When it comes to recruitment ads for new students, charter schools have an advantage traditional school districts are losing rapidly. The charter schools can hold out the promise of a free ride to school and back.
For many parents, the promise is safety and convenience, relief from the hassle of transporting children back and forth. If public school officials are getting an accurate read on the reasons they are losing so many of their students to charter schools, the transportation service is a big draw for parents. Such is the draw that the Canton school district adjusted its policy this year to blunt the appeal, busing kindergarten through eighth-grade students who live a mere quarter of a mile from school, instead of the previous limit of one mile.
For urban districts competing with several charter schools for enrollment, the busing service is but one example of how state policies hamstring the traditional school system. State law requires districts to transport K-8 students who live two miles or more from their assigned neighborhood school. Akron Public Schools offers the minimum required service. But because state law also permits enrollment in any charter school within a district, the Akron school system is required to transport charter students. The district now is transporting more students over more miles at an increasing expense with the continuing growth in the number of charter schools.
Losing students and state funding to competing schools, the district is struggling to cut operating costs, including transportation. Among other steps, it has drastically reduced dedicated bus routes and begun phasing out a decades-old bus-pass program this month, with the goal to trim about $400,000 from its transportation budget. It is galling that as it scales back rides for its own students, the district still must find some $300,000 to meet transportation needs to five more new charter schools.
It is challenging enough, as it is, for the district to cut costs, replace an aging bus fleet and operate an efficient busing service for its own students at the same time that state funding for bus purchases and school transportation has not kept pace with demand and rising costs.