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School buses improve access to education

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Unlike our neighboring school districts to the north and south, Atascadero Unified School District does not offer home-to-school bus service for the majority of its students. Every day, parents and guardians make thousands of car trips to and from schools, wasting money and time, creating traffic, lowering air quality, and degrading roads.

Also, Atascadero contracts with a for-profit company to provide before- and after-school child care—and it is expensive. If parents cannot pay $400 a month for the service, they must be available every workday at 3 p.m. to pick up their students.

There is a simple solution: offer students a normal school bus to get to and from school. Families benefit from a school bus in ways beyond schedule flexibility as well. Atascadero has a chronic absenteeism rate of 1 in 10 students, which the state designates at "high." For low-income students, who are the least likely to have access to reliable transportation to school, the rate is 1 in 7. Chronic absenteeism correlates with poor educational outcomes starting in kindergarten and extending through college, but research shows that being able to ride the bus to school reduces chronic absenteeism rates, especially in rural areas like Atascadero.

Regular home-to-school bus service would ensure that our most vulnerable students are able to get the education they deserve. Atascadero's school board claims that they cannot afford to offer this service, but there are grants available that other California districts have used to fund their transportation programs. If other districts, including Paso Robles and SLO, can offer bus service, why can't Atascadero? Atascadero Unified is letting its students and families down by refusing to implement a critical part of public education: getting students to school.

Shane Patrick

Atascadero

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