New York’s public schools have had to make deep spending cuts in recent years in response to rising costs and stagnating state aid. They’ve made some progress cutting transportation costs, but as this week’s Sunday Gazette story indicated, they could be making a lot more: Spending $3 billion on busing — roughly 5.7 percent of total school funding — is crazy.
Where to start cutting? How about making more students walk? By law, schools are only required to provide transportation for those in K-8 who live two or more miles away, or three miles or more away for high-schoolers. Granted, there are safety issues in some communities — a lack of sidewalks along busy streets — but school districts in pedestrian-friendly cities should expect their kids to do more walking. If nothing else, it’s good exercise, something all school kids need.
And why rely exclusively on school buses to provide transportation for high schoolers, when there are public bus companies in many communities? They should be used where possible.
The state should also get in the act. Why not, for example, drop the requirement that public school districts transport private school students, sometimes miles from their own community? The state should also re-jigger transportation aid formulas, so the neediest districts get more aid per-pupil than the richest ones.
In general, the state needs to be a lot less generous with transportation reimbursements, so school districts have more incentive to economize. Force them to assume a larger share of the costs, and they might start making more efficient use of their buses, sharing routes, equipment and maintenance facilities with other districts, getting their drivers to turn their engines off when waiting, rather than letting them idle endlessly, etc. There’s money to be saved, and better on something like transportation than educational programs.