California lawmaker pushes for free school buses for public students

A California lawmaker wants every student to be able to get to school on a bus for free.

On Tuesday, state Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) introduced SB 878, otherwise called the "Road to Success."

The bill would establish a state-funded program to ensure that every TK-12 public school student in California gets transportation to and from school each day. Many school districts may launch or expand their own public school transportation systems funded by the state or they will be able to partner with public transit agencies to get students to and from school.

"Getting to and from school should never be a barrier to student success," Skinner said in a statement. "The research is clear: Students with school-provided transportation miss far fewer days and are more likely to graduate." 

Many districts in California do not have school buses and children either have to get driven to school by their parents, walk or take public transit. Sometimes, this causes hardships on families, especially low-income families. 

Studies show a strong relationship between access to transportation and improved school attendance, especially among younger schoolchildren. In November 2020, the state Department of Education released data indicating that the lack of transportation to school was one of the most common reasons that students miss school.

Students missing class, in turn, leads to lower graduation rates. Several studies have shown a marked increase in high school graduation rates among youth who were guaranteed transportation.

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Skinner's office also touted the environmental advantages of providing buses. 

Nationally, school bus transportation has the capacity to eliminate 17 million cars on the road and reduce 20 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year. Transitioning the school bus fleet to zero-emission vehicles, and providing local educational agencies with proper training and resources to manage these fleets, will lead to an even greater reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, her office said. 

The bill is sponsored by the California School Employees Association.

CSEA President Matthew "Shane" Dishman said that California’s home-to-school transportation program was originally intended to reimburse districts for school transportation, but its funding formula hasn’t allowed for increases in almost a decade while costs like fuel, labor, and maintenance have skyrocketed. 

This proposal follows Skinner’s Free School Meals for All bill in 2021, making California the first in the nation to guarantee that all public school children are offered two free meals a day at school.