School Districts Backing Out of Busing Commitments

Nationwide, only 2 percent of eligible children take advantage of No Child Left Behind's "transfer provision," which compels districts to allow kids attending a failing school to transfer to a higher performing one. Why is the provision so rarely used? In many districts, there simply isn't a great school to transfer to, and NCLB does not allow transfers across districts (in my view, a major flaw of the legislation). There's also the problem of transportation; many districts just don't provide a good way for students to get to a school outside of their neighborhood.

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that now even those districts that have been providing busing are cutting back, citing high fuel costs and budgetary belt tightening. But it's no coincidence that some of the districts now canceling busing programs have long fought desegregation. The entire state of Alabama won a federal waiver releasing it from the transfer provision. Milwaukee, DeKalb County in Georgia, and Tampa Bay have also wiggled out from under the requirement.

If local governments can't or won't provide this service, the federal government should step in, creating voluntary transfer programs that offer districts funding incentives for taking students in from across boundary lines. How would it work? Read about Hartford, Conn. The simple truth is that integration matters to the academic performance and social development of children of every race and class, and it simply cannot be achieved without government intervention. Consider the case of Wannesha McKennedy, who lives outside of Atlanta and would like to attend a better high school. The Journal reports:

McKennedy's daughter, Wannesha, had been accepted at a well-regarded high school in an affluent part of northern DeKalb County. But it is 22 miles away from the family home. Mr. McKennedy couldn't figure out a way to drive her there and still get to downtown Atlanta to start work on time at 7 a.m. And so, for her junior year, Wannesha will stay at her neighborhood high school, which has missed its NCLB achievement goals for the past three years.

Without transportation, the promise of choice is a "joke," says Mr. McKennedy. "If you're going to have it, you need buses."

cross-posted at TAPPED

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