This article, written by Lynn Bonner, originally appeared in The News & Observer.
Many charter schools that serve low-income students provide bus service, even though it is not required. Charter schools receive transportation funds for every child, as do traditional public schools, but the state does not provide money to charter schools for the vehicles.
A House bill proposes to have the state pick up some of those costs for charters where at least half the students qualify for free and reduced lunch. The financial support would free up money that those schools could then spend on technology, teacher pay, or more and better buses, supporters said.
The bill sets up a $2.5 million program that would have eligible schools apply for reimbursement of up to 65 percent of their transportation costs. Marcus Brandon, executive director of NorthCarolina CAN, an organization that supports school choice, said the money would be enough to cover grants to 12 to 15 schools.
About 30 percent of students attending charters in 2015-16 were from low-income families, compared to about half the students who attended traditional public schools, according to the bill’s supporters.
Alex Quigley, managing director of PAVE schools and chairman of the state Charter School Advisory Board, said transportation is essential for students at his Raleigh school. The school is focused on closing the achievement gap between students in disadvantaged groups and other students; 85 percent of its students are eligible for free or reduced lunch.
The bill would allow schools working to close the achievement gap to provide robust transportation systems and devote more resources to academic programs, he said.