Transport Costs of School Choice
In this paper, the authors examine the role that transport costs play in school choice. They note that the average per pupil cost for transportation among U.S. school districts was $570 in 2010 (about 5 percent of the average total per pupil expenditure). The paper reviews the literature on the transport costs of school choice and then presents a detailed case study of St. Paul, Minnesota, that involves both a parent survey and a modeling application.
St. Paul, Minnesota, has a population of about 300,000 and covers 56 square miles. In 1974, nearly all students walked or bicycled to their neighborhood schools. Since then, a system of magnet schools has been established, so that of 55 elementary schools, 34 are now designated as magnet schools. By 2005, 67 percent of students attended a school outside their neighborhoods. The results of the parent survey show that compared to students from neighborhood schools, school choice students walk two-thirds less, are driven one-quarter less, and use school buses twice as much. The authors estimated the costs of transportation under the current policy compared to three other scenarios, including one in which students attend only neighborhood schools. They found that transport costs under St. Paul’s current policy are more than seven times greater than the neighborhood-only scenario, but they caution the reader against applying this estimate to other school districts across the country.
This paper was presented at the Lincoln Institute’s annual Land Policy Conference in 2013 and is Chapter 8 of the book Education, Land, and Location.