A story today out of New York emphasizes the pains and perils of budget cuts on school bus service. Is it time that all states and school districts at least consider charging for rides?
The article describes how cost-saving measures in the Rochester School District have forced many students to walk to and from school, and just in time for the onslaught of winter weather. Sounds to me like a perfect candidate for federal Safe Routes to School funds. And the community is not happy. It made me wonder if the school district has considered charging parents to have their kids ride the bus.
In our free-market, supply and demand society, for centuries now, we have grown accustomed to paying a premium for rendered services. We don't expect the dry cleaners to press our shirts and slacks for free. We accept sales tax and (most of us) tip the wait staff. Some of these services are essential; some are luxuries.
Still, we pay and pay again.
I recall when I was in school, and I only rode the school bus to select field trips or athletic events, my mom would pay the parents of my classmates to take me to school and pick me up in the afternoon. Or the barter system was employed: I'll drive your kids this week if you return the favor next week. But, time after time, I read of taxpayers nixing any proposed plans to implement an additional fee for school busing. True, additional taxes are seldom if ever welcomed with open arms, especially when such a fee would be on top of property taxes that already go to local schools. Maybe due to this fact many school districts don't even bring it up for fear of the public backlash.
In fact, as we recently discovered, more than three-quarters of STNonline visitors who participated in the latest STN Web Poll sponsored by Durham School Services have never considered charging parents to transport their children on the yellow bus. This is despite colossal budget dilemmas. Meanwhile about 15 percent have said their districts do charge fees for the yellow bus. The rest say they have considered it.
Some of those responses might have come from Hawaii, which is in the midst of a very big school bus budget crisis. There, the new year has begun with school bus fare increases of 35 cents to a total of 75 cents per one-way ride. Quarterly passes increased to $60, up from $31.50.
Unfortunately, something has to give, and at least for the time being, that doesn't appear to be shrinking budgets that only figure to contract further. What remains to be seen is if parents would or could absorb such an additional cost. A recent child care survey conducted by Care.com found parents with young children spend, on average, $12,445 annually on child care, and 14 percent of the average family’s household income is devoted to childcare.