D.C. Council member Sekou Biddle (D-At-Large) was headed to an early morning visit to Anacostia Senior High School recently when he came upon a scene at the Anacostia Metro station. It was packed with school-age children, some as young as five or six, getting ready to travel outside of their neighborhoods to go to school.
The picture said two things to Biddle. One was how a lack of decent education options nearby compel so many families to send kids on what can be a lengthy morning commute.
The other was how much families have to pay for that disadvantage.
“We in effect charge these kids who don’t have the benefit of living in a neighborhood that has a good school within walking distance,” said Biddle, a candidate in the April 26 special election to permanently fill the seat vacated by Chairman Kwame R. Brown. “There’s actually a cost to go to school and it’s disproportionately impacting many of our low income families who don’t have access to good schools.”
So Biddle has introduced legislation that would allow students who travel to school by bus or Metro to ride for free.
Only special education students in the District get traditional yellow school bus service. Biddle’s research showed that of 16,646 public school students who use subsidized Metro bus and rail passes, 40 percent live in Wards 7 and 8, and another 34 percent in Wards 4 and 5. That subsidy has been scaled back in recent years so that students now pay half the normal fare--meaning it costs some kids nearly $4 a day to attend school. A monthly pass costs $30.
Biddle said teachers have told him that some students miss school at the end of the month because the family doesn’t have train or bus fare.
Biddle’s plan would be pricey. School budget analyst Mary Levy said the 50 percent subsidy costs $6.1 million in the current fiscal year. Helping students ride for free would presumably come close to doubling that amount. But Biddle said it’s also the fair thing to do.