California ranks dead last in the nation when it comes to school bus access for kids. Strangely, the state doesn’t require that school districts offer school bus services to communities. On the other hand, California’s more temperate climate makes it easier for students to walk or bike to class. However, school leaders look to change that as the L.A. Times reports leaders are hoping state lawmakers provide state-funded school bus access statewide.
The coastal state is made up of a patchwork of districts offering school bus services in different ways. Examples like Placer County’s Rocklin school district charges $350 per student per school year (with a lower cost option for low-income families); Sacramento County’s San Juan district abruptly ended its school bus service in 2011 due to financial setbacks from the Great Recession. In the end, 9 percent of California’s students have access to school buses. Compare that to a state like New York state where, according to pre-pandemic stats, some 71 percent of the state’s kids attending public school used school buses to get to school.
Now, with the state holding onto nearly $100 billion of surplus, school leaders across the state are looking to Governor Newsom and state lawmakers to do something about school bus access. State Senator Nancy Skinner of Berkley has authored a bill that, with state backing, would require school districts to offer bus access to every student by 2027. Another proposal would have the state fund school bus rides for all students through 6th grade, all low-income students regardless of grade and ban any district from charging families for school bus access.
Those are just two of a few proposals state lawmakers are considering to ensure kids arrive at school equitably and safely. However, with the nation currently experiencing school bus driver shortages, leaders say that the state is going to have to help implement these programs if they want them to succeed. Another hurdle the state will need to navigate is bus driver pay, which in California is equalling fast-food pay. Companies will have to sweeten the pot to attract drivers. Martin Ward, CEO of northern California-based Mid-Placer Public Schools Transportation Agency said “We start at $19 an hour. The Chick-fil-A down the street starts at $18.”
You can read more of the L.A. Times article detailing the need for bus access in the state of California here.