A school bus is not a billboard

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

In conversation recently with an educator in the South, I asked if parents there pay to have a school bus take their kids to school. “No way — not at public schools,” he replied, incredulous that I’d ask such a silly question.

But for parents in many Massachusetts towns, writing a check for school-bus transportation is as routine as hauling your own leaves to the dump (another service offered for free in other towns and elsewhere in the country).

The Boston school system provides free transportation, including MBTA fare for high-school students and some middle-schoolers. But in the suburbs, there’s often a bill. In Newton, a bus pass costs $310 per child; it’s $300 in Andover, $250 in Shrewsbury — a costly convenience for families hobbled by the other costs of “free” public education, such as classroom supplies, field trips, instrument rentals, fund-raisers, and teacher gifts. (Under Massachusetts law, students in kindergarten through sixth grade who live more than 2 miles from their school do not have to pay. Bus fees apply to middle-school and high-school students, as well as elementary students who live within 2 miles of the school.)

But as painful as those bus fees may be, it could be worse: We could be writing checks so that our children can climb on school buses papered with ads.

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