Jorge Elorza, Democratic candidate for Mayor of Providence, issued the following statement on Providence Public School Department’s busing policy.
Our city’s public high school students are not eligible for bus passes unless they live more than three miles from school. Students that fall into the far end of that range could be walking for as long as 45 minutes to an hour just to make it to their first period classes.
As a community, we have to do everything in our power to make sure our students are in their classrooms and learning. Our students face too many challenges for us to be creating additional institutional barriers for them. Denying students who live between 2-3 miles away from school bus passes impacts learning, impacts health, and impacts safety, and our low-income communities are disproportionately affected.
When I was a child growing up on Cranston Street, my Mother acted as the school bus for many kids in the neighborhood. Although we were lucky to have her there to bring us to school, not every student is as lucky as we were.
Students and parents who recognize that this is an issue of fundamental fairness have been voicing their concerns and advocating to allow more students access to monthly bus passes since as early as 2009 in some cases. Community organizations such as Youth In Action, Young Voices, DARE, Providence Student Union (PSU), and other members of the Youth 4 Change Alliance have worked tirelessly to change these policies. As a candidate for Mayor, I stand with each of those individuals and organizations today.
Chronic absenteeism is a big problem in our city, and it’s a problem exacerbated by the fact that we ask our students to walk for so long, at such an early hour, often in frigid weather. When we compare Providence to other school districts, Providence schools show a uniquely strong correlation between cold weather and absenteeism. For example, Providence’s January-February daily absent percentage is more than double the percentage in May, whereas the disparity between January-February and May absences for schools in other cities is significantly less.
As Mayor, I will make bridging this gap a priority. Education was my path out of poverty. I would be nowhere today without the education I received and without all of the people I had advocating for me. Today, I want to advocate for our students. Today, I want to ensure that every Providence public high school student has the same opportunity to succeed that I did.
How can we fix this problem?
First, we need to dramatically decrease the minimum distance for students to receive bus passes. With a total city budget of $662 million, we must make it a priority to find the $1.35 million to fund passes for the 2,100 students who live between 2 and 3 miles from school. $1.35 million is only 0.2% of the total budget. This is a matter of priorities, not cash.
Providence should work with Rhode Island Public Transportation Authority (RIPTA) for a discount on bus passes for Providence public high school students. Reducing the cost from its current level of $62 per month will offset a portion of the additional $1.35 million. RISD and Brown University, which issue passes to their students and faculty, have negotiated with RIPTA so that they pay $1.15 per RIPTA ride as long as the number of rides exceeds 500,000 annually. My plan will add roughly 700,000 rides to the current total. If they can do it, so can we.
Second, we need to make our streets safer and more walking-friendly for those students remaining within 0-2 miles from their schools. This means everything from making sure that our signage and sidewalks are appropriate to making sure our drivers have the safety of our children at the forefront of their minds.
These solutions are all attainable, but they will only be implemented if we all work together to prioritize them, both by way of our words and our actions. Join me and walk with students from the Providence Student Union on February 24 at 6:30 am to help bring attention to this issue.
I am running for Mayor because our children should not have to walk an hour in the cold just to get to school and because I know an investment in education is an investment in health, safety, and happiness. I believe we are One Providence and that when part of our community suffers, we all suffer, and we all have shared responsibility for that suffering.
To learn more about the importance of transportation for students, or to tell me what #OneProvidence means to you, visit facebook.com/JorgeElorzaForMayor and connect with me on Twitter at @ElorzaForMayor.