This Op-Ed ran in the Asbury Park Press on May 20, 2012
Over the past few weeks, numerous Asbury Park Press articles and editorials have criticized New Jersey’s nonpublic school transportation policy. The view advocated by the Asbury Park Press is that if a parent chooses not to send a child to a Public School, the parent should then bear the expense of transporting them to a Non Public School.
I think the editor misunderstands why New Jersey provides transportation for all students – and it has nothing to do with expanding school choice or saving school districts money.
In 1968, the state mandated transportation for all students for health and safety reasons.
Many communities in New Jersey, especially suburban and rural ones, have no sidewalks. To protect small children from traffic accidents, the New Jersey legislature ordered school districts to provide transportation for ALL school-age children living between 2 and 20 miles from their school (2.5 – 20 miles for high school students).
Yet, there is another caveat to transportation funding. Only school districts that bus their public school students (remember there are 600 school districts) must bus their nonpublic school students. So small school districts, where every public school student lives within two miles of school, have no obligation to transport nonpublic school students.
There are other good reasons a school district, especially one like Lakewood, should provide transportation for all students. Lakewood has 18,000 nonpublic school students who travel to and from school each day. Imagine the traffic nightmare if 10,000 or more vehicles transported those students instead of 450 school buses. Imagine the environmental damage from 10,000 extra vehicles, spewing exhaust from their tailpipes, on the already congested roads twice each day.
As far as cost is concerned, the price of nonpublic bussing is set by private bus contractors, who provide over of 70% of the nonpublic transportation contracts. Nonpublic bus routes cost more because they transport fewer children over longer distances. That is not the fault of nonpublic schools parents, who already pay taxes and save the state money by sending their children to a nonpublic school.
True, some school districts struggle to afford both public school instruction and nonpublic school transportation. However, there are better solutions to this problem than endangering the health and safety of more than 80,000 children across the state.
If nonpublic school bussing protects even one child from death in a traffic accident, then it is worth every penny.
As the famous saying goes, he who saves one life is as if he has saved the world.
Josh Pruzansky is the New Jersey Director of Political Affairs and Public Policy for the Orthodox Union representing the needs of over 100 Synagogues and Jewish Day Schools in New Jersey.