Education is Critical to Breaking the Poverty Trap

Education has the power to level the playing field and enable low-income students to achieve economic security and thrive as adults. According to data released from the Congressional Research Service, young adults without a high school diploma are nearly six times more likely to live in poverty than young adults with a bachelor’s degree. 

School Attendance is Crucial for School Success

A robust body of research demonstrates that chronic absenteeism is associated with lower academic performance at the elementary, middle and high school levels, and greater likelihood of dropping out. Research also suggests that going to school regularly is especially critical for children from families living in poverty who are less likely to have the resources to help children make up for lost time in the classroom. One study found that for low-income elementary students who have already missed five days of school, each additional school day missed decreased the student’s chance of graduating by 7%.

Lack of Access to Transportation is a Barrier to School Attendance for Low-Income Youth

According to a recent report by California Attorney General Kamala Harris, poverty and financial instability are significant causes of truancy. Inability to afford transportation to and from school is one of the most frequently cited barriers that low-income youth face in attending school. A survey of Los Angeles County youth by the Youth Justice Coalition found that 56% of students who had missed school days in the past month said that more than half of their absences would have been solved if they had free transportation. A survey of Oakland youth found that 61% of students reported they sometimes use their lunch money to ride the bus, and nearly half of low-income students reported that it was harder to get to school, jobs, or after-school programs without a free transit pass.

There are Strong Local and State Models for Providing School Transportation to Students

Many states guarantee transportation to and from school for public school students who live beyond a certain distance from their school, including New Jersey, New York, and Missouri. A number of successful local models provide free transit passes or transportation to youth in a diverse array of cities and communities from San Francisco to Marin County to New York City to Polk County, Florida.

Providing Free Transportation to Low-Income Youth Increases Afterschool Participation, Increases Student Safety, and Creates Positive Health Effects

Research indicates that providing free transportation to youth has substantial positive academic and health effects. An evaluation of a pilot to provide free transit passes to low-income middle school and high school students in Alameda and Contra Costa counties found the program increased student bus ridership and after-school participation. Researchers concluded that the one year length of the program was not long enough to produce a measurable change in school attendance data.

A San Diego pilot program to provide free transit passes to low-income high school students was found to increase student safety – the likelihood of witnessing or being a victim of a crime, bullying, or sexual harassment decreased among students who received free transit passes.

A health impact assessment by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health concluded that a free transit pass program would have “significant social and downstream health benefits.” Additional benefits identified by assessment included increased disposable income for families, increased freedom and mobility for students, allowing them to reach jobs and participate in cultural events, and fewer traffic and violence-related injuries.

Free Transit Passes Would Reduce Criminalization of Youth

According to data from the L.A. County Probation Department, fare evasion is the number one reason why youth are cited in L.A. County, and youth of color receive a disproportionate number of citations in L.A. County. Fare evasion citations can result in heavy fines or count appearances, and can create stress for students and families. Free transit passes would decrease citations for fare evasion and the resulting criminalization of students.