Parents report that lack of transportation is a significant barrier to getting kids to school regularly. However, growing numbers of districts are reducing bus services to cut costs. A new study from the National Center for Research on Education Access and Choice (REACH) provides some of the first evidence of the effects of bus transportation on student outcomes.
The study, led by MSU College of Education alum Danielle Sanderson Edwards, analyzes how bus eligibility impacts student attendance and achievement in Michigan where almost half of the largest districts limit bus transportation to students who live more than 1.5 miles from school. Researchers conducted the analysis by comparing attendance and achievement of K-8 students who live on either side of the 1.5 mile cut-off but who are otherwise similar in grade level and demographics. The analysis focuses especially on how bus service affects student attendance, which could also affect student achievement.
“Half of U.S. public school students ride the school bus to and from school every day,” said study lead Edwards, who graduated from MSU with a Ph.D. in Education Policy in 2021. “But we know little about the practical effects of school transportation on students.”
The study’s key findings include:
- School bus eligibility increases attendance rates for economically disadvantaged students. Economically disadvantaged students eligible for bus service experience a 1-day increase in attendance (0.63 percentage points).
- School bus eligibility decreases the probability of being chronically absent (missing more than 10% of school days) for economically disadvantaged students. Economically disadvantaged students eligible for bus transportation are 20% less likely to be chronically absent.
- Transportation eligibility does not have statistically significant effects on student achievement.
While researchers examined effects for all students, study findings revealed that bus eligibility only has a significant impact on Michigan’s economically disadvantaged students. “Students from low-income families have a higher risk of missing school regularly,” said Edwards. “Providing transportation may be an effective intervention for reducing absenteeism for economically disadvantaged students because they likely have less access to cars and other forms of direct transportation.”
These results have important implications for school choice. Students using school choice live farther away from their schools and less than half of states require charter schools to provide all students transportation. “Our analysis focused on students attending neighborhood schools, but the results are important elsewhere,” said Edwards. “School choice policies can’t provide genuine access to desirable schools if students can’t get there every day.”
This story was written by Jamerlyn Brown from the National Center for Research on Education Access and Choice and is shared on the MSU College of Education website with permission.