Columbus district leadership defends transportation costs of school choice

The Columbus City Schools could potentially save millions in transportation expenses, which make up 8 percent of the district’s budget, by requiring students to attend schools close to their homes, according to a report presented to the school board last week. However, leadership quickly refuted the recommendation to reduce educational options and defended the district’s open enrollment policy.

Columbus has magnet schools that offer special curricula or educational programming, and students enter a lottery to gain admission. The district also allows district-wide open enrollment so that children can attend a school other than their neighborhood school if a slot exists. The district buses students to the school they select.

Additionally, state law requires districts to provide the same transportation services to private-school and charter-school students as its own students. Other states, including Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, have similar laws making the school district responsible for busing all students.

While the prevalence of school choice may be smart from an educational perspective, it is no doubt costly. The district transports nearly 40,000 students daily this school year, but the Columbus Dispatch reported that the district needed 75 more buses than it had two years ago to transport just 263 more students because of difficulty in routing buses around the city in sync with school schedules.

In response to the report, school board member W. Shawna Gibbs told the Dispatch that the instructional impact of choice deserves a review separate from the impact on transportation. Superintendent Gene Harris agreed but acknowledged that one of her goals is to entice parents to return their kids to their neighborhood schools.

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