District leaders can provide school transportation options for all students through the effective utilization of Title I funds.

Solving school transportation troubles with Title I funds

District leaders can provide transportation options for all students through the effective utilization of Title I funds

Key points:

  • Schools often overlook funding sources that can help with bus challenges
  • Solving school transportation issues is another way to ensure all students have equitable access to educational opportunities
  • See related article: 4 best practices to support and retain school leaders

More than half of students in the U.S. attend high-poverty public schools–and in some states, that percentage is much higher. In Mississippi, for example, approximately 92 percent of students attend high-poverty schools.

These students are often subjected to daunting challenges, but getting a ride to school shouldn’t be one of them. Federally funded resources are available that can be used to help schools and districts address student transportation needs. But here’s the thing: too few districts are taking advantage of those resources. And as a result, too many students are struggling to get to their classrooms safely, consistently, and on time.

Districts are overlooking funds that could help students

The damaging impact of this struggle is something I’ve seen up close because I was both behind the wheel and behind the operations of school transportation for nearly 20 years. I started off driving a yellow school bus for the Naperville Community Unit School District in Illinois. After seven years as a driver, I became the assistant transportation director for Naperville’s school district.

I then moved to Des Moines Public Schools, where I served as the director of transportation for Iowa’s largest school district. While there, I dealt with the full range of transportation challenges schools can encounter, and had to get creative to find solutions that ensured every student had a ride to school. That experience brought me to my current role helping districts find solutions to some of the most challenging, hard-to-serve trips. For many of the districts I work with, supporting those students wouldn’t be possible without funding from Title I.

From this experience, I know that there is money available to fund student transportation. The federal Title I program allocates funds to support economically disadvantaged children living in districts with high poverty rates and help address their school transportation challenges. Many districts, however, don’t fully understand that Title I can be used for school transportation or know how to allocate the proper funds to do so. And as a result, they are overlooking or underusing money that could be helping their students.

4 facts about Title I funds school leaders need to know

If your school or district qualifies for Title I, you may have funds that are intended to provide school transportation for students. To see where your school stands, here are four crucial facts you need to understand about Title I.

  1. Congress allocated $18.4 billion for Title I programs in 2023 – $850 million more than in 2022. Title I is the largest federal program supporting both elementary and secondary education. An additional $26.6 billion is intended for special education programs and community schools.
  1. About 47 percent of public schools currently qualify for Title I funding. However, school systems throughout the country reported using less than 15 percent of the latest round of federal education funding allotted to them during the last school year.
  1. Any school with at least 40 percent of its students in poverty can opt to use a “schoolwide” program. If a school receives funding through Title I’s targeted assistance program, those funds can only be used for low-income students. But if a school receives funds through Title I’s schoolwide program, it can use the funds to address educational needs for the entire school. In fact, more than nine out of 10 students who receive Title I services do so through the schoolwide program.
  1. Title I funds can be used to transport non-low-income students to school. For districts in Title I’s schoolwide funding program, these funds can be used to address the transportation needs of all students. In other words, leaders can offer school transportation to all who need it, whether or not those students individually qualify as low-income.

Title I is intended to give all children the chance to receive a fair, equitable, and high-quality education, with funding for school transportation that enables them to get to their classrooms. This is clearly a major benefit for districts, students, and families–and one that should be accessed whenever possible. Understanding the Title I program will empower school and district leaders to access these vital funds and will ensure they aren’t leaving money on the table that can help their students learn and thrive.

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