School Transportation: Development of an Education Module

UTC Project Information

According to the U.S. Department of Education, Americans spend $20 billion annually to bus 25 million elementary and secondary children to school.  Not only is this annual educational expenditure sizable, trends indicate that the cost of busing children to school appear to be increasing.  Between 1995 and 2007, constant-dollar school busing costs increased 51%; yet, student enrollments only rose by 11% over the same period (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics 2009; National Center for Education Statistics 2009).  Furthermore, declining state and local revenues make it imperative for school districts to efficiently manage transport costs in order to preserve funding for classroom activities without sacrificing students’ ability to get to school.

School districts and municipalities regularly make educational facility and land use decisions without fully understanding the impact of such decisions on overall school transportation costs.  For example, school district facility decisions on whether to build, renovate, or close a district’s schools directly influence the location of schools within the district and, correspondingly, the district’s school transportation network.  These land use and transportation issues are particularly relevant for the southeastern United States, where, during the 2000s, the regional cost outlays averaged 9.4 billion per year for school construction and 3.1 billion per year for school transportation. These costs represent between 3.5% and 4.8% of all education expenditures for each state in the southeastern region.

This project builds on a current STRIDE-funded project, Quantifying the Cost of School Transportation, in which we have selected 20 recently-built schools in North Carolina (12 schools in urban, suburban and rural contexts) and Florida (8 schools in urban and rural contexts) and collected data on the multimodal costs of school transportation. These schools were selected to document the variation in school costs by location type (urban, suburban, and rural) and the associated nearby household density and population. Using these results, we are developing a decision support tool to estimate the transport costs of potential school sites.  This research offers the opportunity to provide a multi-modal perspective on school transportation costs and school location selection by considering the tradeoffs in up-front land costs with ongoing transport costs.

Our study will integrate the decision support tool developed in our current research into newly created education modules on school transportation planning and policy that can be used by transportation, land use and school professionals in making decisions about school siting, school closures, and public school transportation.  These modules will be developed for use in courses offered in graduate programs in urban planning, engineering, and education and in the continuing education programs of organizations involved in school siting and pupil transportation. We will also develop an outreach strategy to disseminate the modules and school transportation costs decision support tool to relevant groups, including the American Planning Association, American Institute of Certified Planning (AICP), Council of Educational Facilities Planners International (CEFPI), Florida Educational Facilities Planners Association, National School Boards Association (NSBA), National School Transportation Association, Institute of Transportation Engineers, and other related organizations. By exposing educational facility, transportation and land use planning professionals to school travel issues and transferring decision support technology, this project will enable local decision makers to make more efficient use of scarce infrastructure resources in the future.

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