Friday, June 09, 2023

Our typical morning routine while running around to get ready for school always includes a combination of: “Eat breakfast. Get dressed. Is everything packed? Do I need to sign anything? Get your sneakers and coat on.” Then, rush the kids out the door to catch their bus. Take a short breath as the kids board the bus and then get myself ready to go to work. That’s on a good day. On other days, we get a text message from the school saying that there’s no driver for the bus that day, and we need to make another arrangement. If we are lucky, that text comes the night before, but more often than not it comes in the morning.

Many parents rely critically on the bus to get their kids to and from school. The bus is not a luxury—it is a necessity which allows parents to commute to and from their own jobs, shuttle younger children to their activities and handle daily life errands. The bus is the only solution for parents who work outside the home or who have multiple kids on different schedules.

However, each year there is a significant risk that come August—just before school starts—the district may not be able to find a bus company to transport the children to school. Nonpublic school parents are familiar with the “B6T” form which they dutifully fill out each year to secure their child’s spot on a bus. What they may not know is that each form has a dollar value associated with it, and if there aren’t enough forms or the dollars aren’t enough, there will be no bus. In the course of a normal school year, there is so much anxiety and juggling that all parents manage, so let’s lessen that burden for everyone by ensuring consistent, reliable and affordable transportation.

New Jersey allocates a specified amount per student to fund a bus for residents attending a nonpublic school, provided you meet certain minimum and maximum distance requirements. For the past several years, this amount was $1,000 per student. The school district, or a designated company they contracted with, would use these funds to solicit bids from bus companies. Despite the increase in gas prices, maintenance and labor costs, the per-pupil funding has not increased each year to meet the actual costs. Each year, it becomes harder and harder to find a bus company willing to run a bus. In the absence of providing the service, the district instead provides parents with “aide in lieu”—a check given out in the middle and end of the school year which would only partially cover the cost of finding alternative transportation.

However, without a bus, families are left scrambling and ultimately forced to pay even further out of their own pockets. More parents driving their kids also means more traffic and a bigger, negative environmental impact. Some would even face the impossible situation of not being able to go to work if they cannot find a way to get their children to and from school.

Transportation to and from school should not be a gamble—it should be a right. The state needs to consider the needs of the tens of thousands of nonpublic school families and increase the per-pupil funding to ensure a safe, reliable means of transporting these children to and from school.

A fair and affordable New Jersey means equitable access to critical services like reliable transportation for our kids to get to and from school. As our elected leaders finalize a state budget over the coming months, we urge them to address this important issue for working families across the state.

Jennifer Sharret (West Orange), parent at Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston
Jodi Mordekai (Livingston), parent at Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston
David Siegel (Teaneck), parent at Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth
Debbie Shteingart (Springfield), parent at Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth
Yael Urman-Adiel and Ron Adiel (West Orange), parents at Golda Och Academy in West Orange
Randi Cohen (Randolph), parent at Gottesman RTW Academy
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