Providence – Our city’s public high school students are not eligible for bus passes unless they live
more than three miles from school. Students that fall into the far end of that range could
be walking for as long as 45 minutes to an hour just to make it to their first period classes.
As a community, we have to do everything in our power to make sure our students are in
their classrooms and learning. Our students face too many challenges for us to be creating
additional institutional barriers for them. Denying students who live between 2-3 miles
away from school bus passes impacts learning, impacts health, and impacts safety, and
our low-income communities are disproportionately affected.
When I was a child growing up on Cranston Street, my Mother acted as the school bus
for many kids in the neighborhood. Although we were lucky to have her there to bring us
to school, not every student is as lucky as we were.
Students and parents who recognize that this is an issue of fundamental fairness have
been voicing their concerns and advocating to allow more students access to monthly bus
passes since as early as 2009 in some cases. Community organizations such as Youth In
Action, Young Voices, DARE, Providence Student Union (PSU), and other members of
the Youth 4 Change Alliance have worked tirelessly to change these policies. As a
candidate for Mayor, I stand with each of those individuals and organizations today.
Chronic absenteeism is a big problem in our city, and it’s a problem exacerbated by the
fact that we ask our students to walk for so long, at such an early hour, often in frigid
weather. When we compare Providence to other school districts, Providence schools
show a uniquely strong correlation between cold weather and absenteeism. For example,
Providence’s January-February daily absent percentage is more than double the
percentage in May, whereas the disparity between January-February and May absences
for schools in other cities is significantly less.
As Mayor, I will make bridging this gap a priority. Education was my path out of
poverty. I would be nowhere today without the education I received and without all of the
people I had advocating for me. Today, I want to advocate for our students. Today, I want
to ensure that every Providence public high school student has the same opportunity to
succeed that I did.
How can we fix this problem?
First, we need to dramatically decrease the minimum distance for students to receive bus
passes. With a total city budget of $662 million, we must make it a priority to find the
$1.35 million to fund passes for the 2,100 students who live between 2 and 3 miles from
school. $1.35 million is only 0.2% of the total budget. This is a matter of priorities, not
Providence should work with Rhode Island Public Transportation Authority (RIPTA) for
a discount on bus passes for Providence public high school students. Reducing the cost
from its current level of $62 per month will offset a portion of the additional $1.35
million. RISD and Brown University, which issue passes to their students and faculty,
have negotiated with RIPTA so that they pay $1.15 per RIPTA ride as long as the number
of rides exceeds 500,000 annually. My plan will add roughly 700,000 rides to the current
total. If they can do it, so can we.
Second, we need to make our streets safer and more walking-friendly for those students
remaining within 0-2 miles from their schools. This means everything from making sure
that our signage and sidewalks are appropriate to making sure our drivers have the safety
of our children at the forefront of their minds.
These solutions are all attainable, but they will only be implemented if we all work
together to prioritize them, both by way of our words and our actions. Join me and walk
with students from the Providence Student Union on February 24 at 6:30 am to help bring
attention to this issue.
I am running for Mayor because our children should not have to walk an hour in the cold
just to get to school and because I know an investment in education is an investment in
health, safety, and happiness. I believe we are One Providence and that when part of our
community suffers, we all suffer, and we all have shared responsibility for that suffering.
To learn more about the importance of transportation for students, or to tell me what
#OneProvidence means to you, visit facebook.com/JorgeElorzaForMayor and connect
with me on Twitter at @ElorzaForMayor.