Thursday, April 22, 2021

Balto. City restores free bus service for students


These are the tubes.

These are the tubes that things go down when things go down the tubes.

These are the actual tubes.

Schools aren’t here one day and gone the next—except, perhaps, for a few for-profit charter schools. Rather, schools die a slow death. Budget cuts and other measures take away educational programs slowly but surely. For example, as we reported a few years ago, Chicago Public School had taken away ceramics classes and some of the more challenging math and science classes at Dyett High School, all but guaranteeing students would leave and enroll in the city’s charter schools, because the public, district-run school couldn’t offer them what they wanted or needed after the cuts.

In Baltimore City, where many students depend on public transportation to get to school and bus passes allow them to ride for free during certain hours during the school year, the government didn’t take away the free rides. But they did cut back on the hours. This is just another way things start to go down the tubes for schools and for students and their families. A few hours are taken away here, an extracurricular activity doesn’t have enough participation there, and pretty soon, the school has no choice but to end vital or fun programs. That is, it starts to go down the tubes, as seen in the high school graduation rate.

The state reported a 2016 high school graduation rate in Baltimore City of 70.7 percent last month, which is an improvement over recent years, but it’s still far below the state average of 87.61 percent. For comparison, Cecil County, an extremely rural region northeast of Baltimore City, reported a graduation rate of 90.65, representing an improvement across the county of nearly 3 percentage point over the 2015 rate and a more than 10 percentage point increase from 2010. Fewer than half of the state’s districts raised the graduation rate from 2015 to 2016.

When the Maryland Transit Administration, which runs the bus service in Baltimore City, introduced a new fare structure last year, the government scaled back the free rides for students, meaning they could only ride the buses for free until 6 PM, not 8 PM. As a result, some students who may have to transfer from one bus to another ended up quitting after-school programs, extracurricular activities, and extra help, just so they could get home safely. When you prevent kids from accessing these programs and services, you increase the risk that those kids won’t make it to graduation or won’t be as prepared for life after high school.

In order to restore the service, families raised about $26,000, including the money raised by members of the City Council, who sold brownies, Rice Krispies treats, cinnamon rolls, and chocolate chip cookies at a bake sale, according to a news report in the Baltimore Sun. That wasn’t enough, so Under Armour, the sportswear manufacturer based in Baltimore, and the Baltimore Ravens pro football team donated an additional $75,000, which is enough to pay for the rides through the end of the current school year.

But next year, we’re going to be right back where we were before families and Under Armour rode in to save the day. Slowly but surely, we’re making school less fun for Baltimore City kids. This is how it happens when things start to go bad. Thank goodness some people have noticed and are stepping up to the plate. “Even though this policy seems small, its impact has been large and dramatic for our families,” the Sun quoted Zeke Cohen, chairman of the City Council’s Education and Youth Committee, as saying.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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