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Does Pupil Transportation Close the School Quality Gap?

October 1, 2018
Evidence from New York City

Urban Institute

The persistent “heat” characterizing the public debate about school choice is fueled, in part, by the dearth of empirical evidence about the conditions under which choice improves access to good schools for disadvantaged students and reduces educational inequality. There is, perhaps, more agreement about the “theory” of choice: allowing students to attend district public schools outside their historic residential zone will enable students in disadvantaged neighborhoods with low-quality schools to enroll in higher-quality schools in other neighborhoods, reducing disparities in school quality between poor and non poor and black and white students and, ultimately, improving their educational outcomes.

Whether or how much this outcome is realized depends on three factors. First, there must be higher quality options available elsewhere in the district. Second, students must be able to get to these better schools, either on foot or using transportation. Third, the benefit from attending these higher-quality schools must outweigh the costs incurred by students for travel, including financial costs and non financial costs (e.g., time and stress). Thus, a key ingredient for the success of policies that expand access to high-quality schools is pupil transportation—the availability and quality of school bus services and the quality of and subsidies for public transit.

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