A Safe and Free Way to School

By Janae Wheeler of Youth Justice Coalition

May 9, 2017

We are working again this year on a bill to guarantee free transportation to school to K-12 students who attend Title I schools, Assembly Bill 1469 by Assemblymember Tim Grayson. On April 26, the bill was passed out of the Assembly Education Committee. What follows is a powerful testimony from youth leader Janae Wheeler given during the public comment portion of that committee hearing.

Good morning. My name is Janae Wheeler and I am a student at the Youth Justice Coalition's high school. We are honored to be co-sponsors of Assembly Bill 1469.

I was born in Los Angeles. When I was three months old, my mom was incarcerated and me and all my brothers and sisters were split up and put into foster homes. I didn't come back to live with my mom until 15 years later.

Coming home from prison after 15 years in and out, my mom is struggling to find a job. She has six children including me. And she gets $600 a month in public assistance. With that, she has to cover housing, food and all our expenses. So of course, she doesn't have the extra $244 a month to get all of us Metro passes.

I work so I can to help my family. But I also have to choose between school supplies and food for me and my brothers and sisters. So I usually don't have money left for transportation.

Sometimes I have asked by neighbors and even complete strangers for help to get bus fare. But, having to ask for money is extremely embarrassing for me and my family, knowing that you are practically begging for money.

Sometimes I ask the bus driver for a free ride. But, the busdrivers often call the police when people ask for a ride. So I am scared to do that.

Sometimes I ride the buses and trains without fare, but I have also been stopped and searched by the sheriffs on the train. Once when I was late to school, they gave me a truancy ticket. I also have to take my little cousin to school, and I worry about what would happen if I got arrested. Would they put him in foster care? So usually, me and my little cousin walk to school.

I was getting to school late almost every day, so – even though I am only 17 – my high school kicked me out without a referral to another school. I found the Youth Justice Coalition, and now I get a free Metro pass from my school. My attendance is almost perfect, and I will be able to graduate high school by December.

In a survey the Youth Justice Coalition conducted of more than 3,000 students:

  • 71% report lateness to school due to transportation problems; and
  • 44% of those who had missed school said that ALL their absences would have been solved if they had free transportation.

We have enough money to pay for student passes in our communities. In Los Angeles County, less than 20% of the 110 million dollars the MTA pays the sheriffs and police departments each year to check Metro passes and patrol the trains and buses, could pay for an unlimited Metro pass for every student in LA County - kindergarten through college. Every county has these kinds of solutions. But unfortunately, sometimes the state has to force counties to do the right thing.

If you care about youth education, then all students need to have a safe and free way to get to school. Please pass Assembly Bill 1469.

Click here to learn more about Assembly Bill 1469 and our other policy priorities for 2017.