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Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner Urges Free Student Transit Passes for All Students (01-23-20)

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Shannon Haber, 213-241-6766                                      January 23, 2020

Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner Urges Free Student Transit Passes for All Students



Supt Beutner and bus drivers (Los Angeles, CA) – At today’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Board meeting, Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner announced his support for free student transit passes for all Los Angeles Unified students.

Los Angeles County Supervisors Hilda Solis and Janice Hahn, Mayor Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin, MTA Chairman and Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr., and MTA  Director Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker co-sponsored a motion, which was unanimously approved, requesting that the MTA Board consider providing  free Metro transit for all Los Angeles Unified students. A report on the proposal is due back in April.

“Something as basic as coming up with the money to buy a bus pass to get to school can be a barrier which prevents a child from getting the education they deserve,” Superintendent Beutner said. “Our yellow buses are free, and students should ride free on MTA, as well.”

In September, School Board Member Dr. George J. McKenna III launched the first-ever “any line, any time” pilot program for student transit passes. The program was funded by Just Transit, a project of The 11th Hour Project of The Schmidt Family Foundation, and provided free transit passes for the Junior class at Manual Arts High School which is in the South Los Angeles Transit Empowerment Zone (SLATE-Z). Similar pilots have resulted in improved student outcomes, greater access to educational opportunities and reduced absenteeism and tardiness.  

“A transit pass program will make a major difference in the lives of students and their communities,” Dr. McKenna said. “This is an important investment that will minimize barriers for students who may struggle getting to school. Seeing this go citywide can only enhance educational access for our students.” 

“Our students’ focus should be on doing well in school, not worrying on how they’re going to get to school,” School Board President Dr. Richard Vladovic said. “A free transport program can make a world of difference to our families and is an investment in the future of our communities. Let’s work on destroying the barriers that impede our children from the education they need and deserve.”

“A student with a bus pass is able to use the city as a classroom,” School Board Vice-President Jackie Goldberg said. “We have a wonderful city to explore, and giving students free bus passes allows them not only safe passage to school, but a key to the city and access to many opportunities.”

“We must eliminate the many barriers that our highest-need families and students face,” Board Member Mónica García said. “Thank you to the co-sponsors of the motion for MTA to examine the possibility of a free transit program for our students. Thank you Supervisor Hilda Solis, Mayor Garcetti, Council Member Bonin, Ms. Dupont-Walker, Mayor Butts, Supervisor Hahn and our community partners.”

“In a district in which 80% of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch and has 19,500 students experiencing homelessness, we understand that many of our families cannot afford to buy student transit passes,” School Board Member Scott M. Schmerelson said. “We must eliminate the barriers that prevent students from attending school and continue to support initiatives that will make it affordable for our families to live in Los Angeles County.”

“Too often, we see various government agencies working in silos to address the needs of our most vulnerable children,” School Board Member Nick Melvoin said. “I hope this initial effort to reduce our students’ transportation barriers helps usher in a new spirit of kid-centered, inter-agency collaboration.”

“Free public transportation would enable our students, 80% of whom are growing up in poverty, to attend school regularly and participate in enrichment programs,” School Board Member Kelly Gonez said. “This is a critical investment, and the benefits for our communities far outweigh the foregone bus or train fares. I urge MTA to commit to making public transportation free for all our students across Los Angeles Unified.”

Los Angeles Unified educates more than 600,000 students, with over 80% living in poverty.

A 2015 study by Harvard University found that access to transportation is the single biggest factor in the odds of escaping poverty and avoiding homelessness. Another study in 2013 by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health found that securing free transit passes for all students from preschool to college could lead to families saving money in fewer fines for fare evasion. In addition, families would save money on student transit passes and, most importantly, students would receive more instructional time.

“As cash-strapped families struggle to provide basic needs for their children, transportation costs should not be a barrier for students traveling to school,” County Supervisor Solis, an MTA Board member who authored the motion, said. “We all know that children who regularly attend school increase their chances of obtaining a college degree and of earning higher wages as adults,” she continued. “Today, we will undertake a comprehensive review to explore the possibility of overcoming this obstacle that has impeded students from going to school on a consistent basis. This could help students who attend Los Angeles Unified, a community college, or any other school district in Los Angeles County. This is an important investment in our communities, our students and our economy.”

“Transportation costs should never be a barrier to success for our students,” Metro Board Vice Chair Mayor Garcetti said. “Free Metro rides will help students realize their full potential — and I look forward to the Board exploring a program to help young people get to class on time, boost attendance, save money for families struggling to make ends meet, and create access to opportunities that might have been out of reach.” 

"Offering free transit service to Los Angeles Unified students helps support families in Los Angeles, making it easier and cheaper for students to get around the city," Councilmember Bonin, a co-author of the motion, said. "This will make life in Los Angeles more affordable for the families who depend on our transit service, and it will be a great opportunity to get more children and families to fall in love with transit in Los Angeles as they ride our buses and trains."

“Every student has the basic right to be able to get to school,” Metro Board Director Dupont-Walker said. “This study is a key first step to increasing equity, expanding our youth's access to new opportunities, and lessening cost burdens for Los Angeles’ working families.”

“As the Chair of the Metro Board of Directors, I’m pleased to support the efforts led by Supervisor Solis to cautiously explore in a very fiscally responsible manner an effort to provide reliable and low cost or free transit to K through 12 students,” Mayor Butts said. “As she quoted the 2015 Harvard University study in her Motion, ‘Access to transportation is the single greatest factor in the odds of escaping poverty and homelessness.’”

“Los Angeles Unified doesn’t charge students to ride the traditional yellow school buses, and we shouldn’t charge students for taking our Metro buses to school either,” Supervisor Hahn said. “If we can make it a little easier for our students to have a safe, reliable way to get to school we should and I hope this will lift a burden off of families in need.”

“Access to free public transportation eliminates obstacles for students getting to school and staying in school,” Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Maria S. Salinas said. “This nurtures a well-educated workforce that will help keep California competitive. The Chamber supports this initiative to study the impact of free transit and stands with Los Angeles Unified in support of the study.”

“Ensuring all students have access to an excellent public education starts with making sure every student can get to school safely and on time,” SEIU Local 99 Executive Director Max Arias said. “SEIU Local 99 members include bus drivers who proudly transport thousands of students to school every day. Yet, we also recognize that many students don’t have access to school buses. For students living in poverty or in areas where even walking to school can pose a danger, free MTA bus service will mean one less obstacle to achievement.”

“We all know we would not be at this point without Dr. McKenna speaking up, going to bat and truly digging in to make the pilots happen,” SLATE-Z Executive Director Effie Turnbull Sanders said. “SLATE-Z is grateful for his efforts and the efforts of all of our 71 partners including LA Trade Technical College, Move LA, LA Promise Fund, Community Coalition, Mayor Garcetti's Office, LADOT and Metro to move this issue forward over the past few years.”

Los Angeles Unified transports approximately 40,000 students serving communities over 700 square miles. Many Los Angeles Unified students ride MTA buses to schools. Efforts across the state have been recently made to address the transit needs of student populations in addition to initiatives led by Metro. The City of Los Angeles Department of Transportation launched their DASH to Class program in August 2019, which offers free rides on DASH buses for K-12 students in the City of Los Angeles. Jurisdictions across the country including Washington, D.C., New York City and Alameda County successfully implement free transit passes programs for students in public schools.

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