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Illinois schools may consider pay-to-ride bus program

A free ride may be ending for many Illinois students, who, like others in cash-strapped school districts nationwide, may have to pay for their bus trip to school.

NBCChicago.com is reporting that the Illinois Board of Education is considering the move, offering districts in the state the options of eliminating buses altogether or having parents pay the transportation cost. The Illinois school system serves about 2.1 million students.

Nationwide, school districts struggling with massive budget shortfalls have started charging families for what had been a free service, with even more districts, including Palm Beach County in Florida, considering the idea of a pay-to-ride bus system.


Attempts by msnbc.com to contact a spokesperson with the Illinois State Board of Education or U.S. Department of Education was unsuccessful on Tuesday. But state transportation funding for Illinois schools already has been slashed by 42 percent since 2010, according to The Associated Press.

In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, most families in the Keller Independent School District started racking up bills in August, with fees up to $170 for a child each semester. Because of Texas law, special needs students continue to ride for free.

“We understand that families are monetarily strapped and people are still upset,” said Dana Chandler, general manager of transportation with the Keller Independent School District with Durham School Services. “But I am not getting 100 calls a day as I did earlier, but down to one or two from parents. Ridership has grown as the year has progressed and I can’t believe it, but it has become successful.”

Parents in Colorado's third-largest school district are in their second year paying $1 day for their kids to ride the bus to school.

"We've had several calls from other districts asking about our program," said Randy Barber, spokesman for the Douglas County School District in Castle Rock, Colo.

Each Douglas County bus is equipped with a Zonar GPS unit to track student ridership and each student is required to carry a card or a ZPass that tracks their use of the bus, Barber said. He said that has helped school officials verify the absence or attendance of a student.

"We have 13,000 students who ride the buses each day. It's been successful in many ways," Barber said.

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The pay-to-ride idea generated a healthy round of conversation among msnbc.com readers on Facebook on Tuesday. Among the comments:

  • “It's not surprising given the cost of fuel. Hopefully the fee would be reasonable, and include a plan similar to free/reduced lunches for low income families, otherwise you'd likely see an increase in absent children,” Nicole Block-Flinn posted.
  • “My Daughter in Law in Hawaii, would have to pay $75 a quarter to send her kids on the bus, they drive them to school. It is good they have that option. I guess the school boards don't have enough money,” Jill Pehle-Killeen wrote.
  • “Dont we pay school taxes? Where does that money go? People can barely afford food & gas what makes them think we can afford to pay for anything else?!” Jeanette Allen posted.

Do you think transportation to school should be free?

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