Students in Oakland have had to choose between food and the forty dollar monthly bus fare to get to school. That was one of many troubling things we heard at a recent committee hearing as students from Unity Charter High and Skyline, as well as community representatives testified about the hardships that students face getting to school.
Thankfully the Alameda County Transportation Committee voted for a pilot program to provide free bus passes to some middle and high school students. The article Alameda County to pilot free student bus passes, highlights the practical challenges that many Oakland students face.
Prior blogs have covered the ways that the lowest performing schools tend to be clustered in the Flatlands and particularly West Oakland, as well as the disturbing statistics around access to the best schools (low income students are 18 times more likely to be in the lowest performing schools than non- low income students).
Well, as Oakland moves towards a common enrollment system, which should increase student mobility, we have to pay attention to the practical issues. Like transportation. If kids can’t pay for the bus, there is no choice. And if bus service is not aligned to student travel patterns, with multiple transfers, and long waits, it again becomes impractical.
Or to be more specific, it becomes impractical to some, those most challenged students. Some parents can drive their kids, for others bus fare is not a problem, and others live in the Hills, within walking distance to high quality options.
Increasing choices by itself does not necessarily lead to more equity. We need to write rules and provide supports that will not only open up hypothetical choices for families, but actuate real ones, paying most attention to what is happening with our highest need students.
Too often the rhetoric of school choice floats disconnected from the realities faced by families. This is one area where we need to be sure the rubber hits the road, and get everyone on the bus.