Drivers of Choice: Parents, Transportation, and School Choice

Will Compernolle

Paul Teske, Jody Fitzpatrick, and Tracey O'Brien
Center on Reinventing Public Education
July 2009

Transportation is one of those down-to-earth issues that many of us pointy-headed policy wonks tend to overlook. But any effort to offer parents options outside of their neighborhoods has to grapple with it. In this report, the authors interviewed 600 low-income and middle-class parents in Denver and Washington, D.C. It chose Denver because of its low population density and limited public transportation, and D.C. for its typical East Coast urban density and ample rail and bus options. Across both cities, one quarter of respondents said their child was not attending the school they preferred due to transportation difficulties. That percentage increased to one-third for low-income families. Furthermore, two-thirds of respondents said they would choose a better school for their child if transportation options improved; a whopping eighty percent of low-income families would do the same. Interestingly, even though the District has a richer array of public transportation options, answers from parents in each city did not differ significantly. The authors fault a lack of information and archaic district transportation models based on a pre-choice era. Their solution is transportation vouchers, which would let parents spend the roughly $700 allocated annually per student for transportation as they saw fit--servicing their cars, paying for public transportation, etc. With charter schools and choice options on the rise, the issue of transportation limitations will only grow in prominence; this report is a great introduction. Read it here.

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