Panel: Oh, the Places You’ll Go: School Choice and Transportation Policy in Urban School Districts

Friday, November 9, 2018: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Wilson C - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Panel Chairs:  Shira Korn, University of Southern California
Discussants:  Sean Corcoran, New York University and Catherine Peretti, My School DC

Does Pupil Transportation Close the School Quality Gap? Evidence from NYC
Sarah Cordes, Temple University and Amy Ellen Schwartz, Syracuse University

Are We There Yet? Geographic Access to Schools for Detroit Students
Joshua Cowen and Danielle Sanderson, Michigan State University

The Relationship between Student Mobility and Distance from School in Washington DC
Kristin Blagg, Matthew Chingos and Victoria Rosenboom, Urban Institute

Empirical Evidence on School Buses as a Transportation Strategy in a Choice-Based System
Jane Lincove, University of Maryland, Baltimore County and Jon Valant, Brookings Institution

Over the last fifteen years, public schooling options available in urban areas, especially for low income families, have increased substantially. In principal, this expansion of school choice and schooling options gives families access to desirable schools outside of their neighborhood, closing the gap in access to quality schools between advantaged and disadvantaged students. However, access to these schools may be limited by geographic constraints, including distance from quality schools and the availability of transportation. Since disadvantaged families have less access to both cars and public transit, patterns of neighborhood inequality can persist even when enrollment policies eliminate formal neighborhood boundaries. Public transit systems designed to bring adults to work are not necessarily capable of also delivering children to school. While previous research has considered the effects of policies that increased schooling options on student achievement, fewer studies provide evidence as to whether disadvantaged families have equitable access to quality schools given the constraints of location and transportation.


The papers on this panel fill an important gap in school choice literature by investigating the theoretical and practical role of transportation and transportation policies in systems of school choice. The papers include empirical work from four US cities, all of which have substantially expanded school enrollment options as a strategy to increase equitable access to school quality. Each city is unique in the degree to which students also have transportation options to get to schools outside their neighborhoods. The papers as a group present a range of both school choice and school transportation policy options and their distinct impacts on access and equity.  Authors examine cases such as Detroit, where students have broad enrollment access to schools both inside and outside their school district, but little support for transportation; and New Orleans, where all schools are required to provide “adequate and free” transportation to students across the city. In between these extremes, are two studies from New York and Washington, DC, where subsidies for large public transportation systems are leveraged in different ways to expand school access.


As a group, these studies raise important and previously neglected questions about the intersection of transportation policy and education policy in urban settings. As cities continue to expand school choice, they will increasingly depend on transit systems to accommodate longer and more frequent commutes by school-aged children. These studies examine how different policy levers (public transit subsidies, yellow bus services, etc.) play a role in school choice. This data and analysis are designed to bridge the policy gap between transportation systems designed for working adults and the growing demands of choice-based school systems.

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