Charter schools have a unique opportunity to break down barriers and open doors to all families. However, this opportunity cannot be realized if entry to charter schools is limited to those with the resources to transport their child to school.
Transportation is an important element to ensure equitable access to charter schools. However, only 35 percent of charter laws (16 states) specify how transportation must be provided to charter school students. In other states, laws do not require transportation but do require the school to address the issue of transportation in their charter school application.
To learn more about the kinds of transportation arrangements being proposed in states where transportation is not required, NACSA examined charter school proposals in nine states: Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, and North Carolina. These are the states from our 20-state national sample that lack statutory language requiring charter schools to provide transportation.
Authorizers and policymakers in states without transportation mandates can use this analysis to facilitate conversations about how to create equitable access to all charter schools within their contexts. Conclusions about this data do not apply nationwide or in states that require transportation plans.
For more policy recommendations, see our Equity & Access resource on Transportation.
Few Charter School Proposals Describe a Transportation Plan
In states where transportation is not required by law, only one in four proposals to open a charter school describe a transportation plan.
NACSA used an expansive definition of what counted as a transportation plan while coding proposals. For instance, proposals that included a budget line for transportation were coded as having a transportation plan, as were proposals that identified students would get to school using several transportation methods.
Proposals With and Without Transportation Plans Are Approved at Similar Rates
In states without transportation mandates, including a transportation plan does not seem to make much difference in a charter school proposal’s approval. Proposals with identified transportation plans were approved 45 percent of the time, compared to 47 percent for proposals without plans.
To facilitate equitable access to all charter schools in their communities, authorizers should begin to critically assess whether the lack of a transportation plan in an application creates barriers for the students and families the school is intending to serve.
Independent Busses Are the Most Commonly Identified Transportation Method
Of the proposals that identified transportation plans, almost half (45 percent) cited plans to hire independent buses. District buses were the least frequently cited transportation method, in just 14 percent of proposals with transportation plans.
Note: Many transportation plans described more than one mode of transportation. As a result, the total in the graph above does not equal 100 percent. The “other” category includes transportation plans that did not fit NACSA’s coding method, such as applications that indicated the school would provide transportation but the mode was unclear or that the school would provide transportation “in accordance with district guidelines.”
NACSA’s Takeaway: In places where transportation funding comes from local sources, charter schools providing transportation are likely forced to divert funds that could be spent on teaching and learning in order to make their schools accessible for students. These findings give weight to calls from charter school advocates to create state policies that provide adequate funds to cover the cost of such transportation services.
NACSA is grateful for the initial coding completed by Public Impact for the pipeline project used in this analysis.