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California bus system restricts access to education

By Kyan Wang Dec. 15, 2022

Harry Kang Art

August heralds a return to school across the U.S., with masses of students traveling to and from classrooms in iconic yellow buses from then until June. But in California, this flock of buses is seldom seen, and students and parents are left scrambling for alternative ways to reach school.

Despite possessing the largest economy in the U.S., California is ranked last in the nation for school bus access. In 1981, the state’s government froze funds for school transportation. To this day, the government does not require school districts to provide transportation for students regardless of their distance from school, resulting in the lowest school transportation usage in the nation. According to the Federal Highway Administration, less than 9% of California students take the bus compared to the nationwide average of 55%.

Recent bus driver shortages are contributing to the transportation problem. Some school districts are trying to fill vacant, low paying bus driver jobs by offering monetary incentives of sign-on bonuses. At San Diego Unified School District, advertisements for school bus driver jobs adorn district vans in a desperate plea to fill 50 empty positions, while San Jose Unified School District had to cut bus service last year for 17 elementary schools. Lack of accountability on the part of school districts has also resulted in canceled bus routes, with The Fresno Bee reporting that funds intended for school transportation are often allocated to other departments.

“Although bonuses would be a good way to incentivize bus drivers to sign on, districts should increase wages to better attract prospective applicants. Bus drivers deserve higher wages for their job, as they work hard every day to ensure students get to and from school on time,” Junior Sonya Prabhoo said.

A fundamental right to education is enshrined in California’s constitution, and the lack of access to school transportation raises inquiry into whether California’s school bus systems violate students’ rights. The Los Angeles Times reported that even though 50% of students in San Juan School District in Sacramento County qualify for reduced price or free lunch, no school transport options are offered, resulting in over 15% of the district’s students being chronically absent—missing 10% or more of all school days. Black and Native American students are disproportionately affected by the lack of buses, with chronic absenteeism rates at 27% compared to a statewide average of 14%, as reported by the California Department of Education.

In stark contrast, the state of New York contains the largest school bus system in the country, servicing 2.3 million students. According to The New York Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee, the state’s bus system receives $2.97 billion in funding annually, the highest in the nation. As a result, it is capable of supporting a much higher percentage of students, with more than 80% of public school students taking a bus to school. In comparison, California only spends $491.11 million a year on school bus services, supporting a third as many students as New York despite California’s much larger population. Due to a lack of requirements, many students—especially in remote rural areas—have difficulty getting to school.

In an attempt to alleviate the lack of bus drivers and bus routes, California’s education budget this year promises to provide funds for more school bus routes and reimburse districts 60% of bus transportation costs—double the current average of 30%. Districts may also raise pay with the new funds to encourage new applicants.

“Another potential solution to fixing the bus crisis is unionizing bus drivers, which would allow them to argue in legal courts for better wages, benefits or better hours. This could incentivize more bus drivers to join and also improve the conditions of existing employees,” Senior Brian Jackson said.

Although there is seemingly hope for California’s school bus system’s future, the newly enacted education budget as well as school districts’ attempts to entice bus drivers have yet to create a noticeable effect. Without increasing California’s oversight of school district transportations systems, the budget increases may only amount to bandaging a bullet wound. If the root causes of California’s troublesome bus system are not addressed, the wound may continue to fester.


About the Contributors

Kyan Wang

staff writer

Kyan Wang is a sophomore at Leland High School and the Tech Columnist and staff writer for The Charger Account. In his free time, he enjoys wasting away on his computer and running.

Harry Kang


Harry Kang is a sophomore at Leland High School currently working as an artist for The Charger Account. During his free time Harry likes to listen to Frank Ocean and procrastinate on school work. Occasionally he breathes oxygen and sometimes consumes H2O.

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