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News


True Impact of ESSA on Transportation Likely to Take Time


WRITTEN BY ERIC WOOLSON T


he federal Every Student Succeeds Act was well re- ceived as a successor to the unpopular No Child Left


Behind Act, but it hasn’t made much of a splash in the pupil transporta- tion arena, professionals on opposite coasts agree. At a Dec. 10 White House cere-


mony announcing the reauthoriza- tion of the Elementary and Second- ary Education Act, President Obama said, “With this bill, we reaffirm that fundamentally American ideal— that every child, regardless of race, income, background, the zip code where they live, deserves the chance to make of their lives what they will.” Pupil transportation professionals


have long emphasized the first step in improving student achievement is getting them safely from home to school and back. A number of state constitutions, statutes and court rulings define public transportation as a right for students. However, it appears an ESSA con-


nection to transportation will take time to crystallize—or may not occur at all in some states. “Really, the signing of the new


The Every Student Succeeds Act is the latest reauthorization of the federal education law.


act has been a non-issue,” said Todd Watkins, director of transportation for the Montgomery County Public Schools in Rockville, Maryland, adding with a smile, “Sorry to be anti-climactic.” Maryland’s 24 county transporta-


tion directors are “a tight-knit group.” “If there’s a hot topic, we’ll go back


and forth on email for a few days, but I haven’t heard one word on this issue,” added Watkins, whose district is the largest in Maryland and ranks No. 17 in the nation. “Sometimes, of course, you don’t know what you don’t know, but no one has come to me and said, ‘Here’s what you’re supposed to be doing that you’re not doing right now.’” Allan J. Jones, director of student


transportation at Washington state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, said the passage of the ESSA created very minor ripples for school districts. “In Washington (state), transpor-


tation is defined under statute and by court decisions as being a part of basic education. It’s a constitutional right, so it’s not really an argument that’s being affected by ESSA,” Jones


said. “Te only question that occasionally gets raised is what that transportation service level looks like. We’ll have parents say, ‘My kid shouldn’t have to walk that far for a bus,’ but there isn’t anything in statute of what constitutes adequate service.” Students and transportations services typically have not


been dramatically affected by parents who opt to move their children from an under-performing school under NCLB’s “school choice” provisions, he said. When ESSA is fully implemented at year’s end, the federal law will not mandate districts to provide school choice transportation. “Tere may be districts that will opt to provide trans-


portation on their own, but it is not required under the federal guidelines,” Jones said. Murrell Martin, pupil transportation specialist at the


Utah State Department of Education, suggested that the jury may still be out on the ESSA’s impact on pupil transportation. “So far, I am not aware of any connections being made between ESSA and expanding pupil trans- portation in Utah,” Martin said. “It’s so new it seems that positions are still being formed. I do anticipate that it will be in discussions in the near future, though.” Taking a broader view, he added, “I am personally of the


opinion that it will take a while for all states, but that it will help in giving more consideration for expanding the opportunities for access to education for students who have limited access to education without pupil transportation.” Watkins and Jones noted that barely perceptible reac-


tion, to date, can be chalked up to the fact that districts in their states were already striving to close student achievement gaps and boost graduation rates. “Where we find an opportunity to have an impact on those things, we’re doing it and we were doing it before the new act was signed,” said Watkins. Both noted that districts’ ongoing commitment to ful-


filling the obligations of the McKinney-Vento Act, which requires districts to deliver transportation and a range of other services to homeless students, also reduces the need for drastic changes under the ESSA. Jones indicated districts are preparing to comply with the 2015 expansion of McKinney-Vento to include children in pre-kindergarten, and to require continuation of service to the school of origin between elementary and middle schools and between middle and high schools. “Te guiding principle is what’s in the best interest of the child. Te concern is what that looks like in reality and what does that mean for the transition (to the ESSA),” Jones said. “Under the ESSA, you have to make a deter- mination to keep the student with their same cohort or transition them to a different school closer to where they have temporary housing. Tose are some of the concerns folks are trying to deal with and estimate the impact.” 


14 School Transportation News • APRIL 2016


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