Schools to bus students living in nearby, high-crime areas

Schools to bus students living in nearby, high-crime areas

(Ill.) Students living only a short distance from their school can now ride the bus free if there is a pattern of criminal activity in their area after lawmakers voted to override a governor’s veto. 

Previously, free transportation for students was provided only to those who lived more than 1.5 miles from school–although there were exceptions made for children whose routes had traffic hazards.

The bill’s author, Rep. LaToya Greenwood, D-East St. Louis, said that providing children with transportation through unsafe areas would help students feel safer and improve school attendance. She noted that after implementing a similar program, Chicago Public Schools saw a 7 percent increase in overall attendance.

“Some students are forced to walk through high crime areas on their commute to and from school and unfortunately this puts our students in unnecessarily dangerous situations,” Greenwood said in a statement. “Our students deserve to feel safe when commuting to school and this legislations aims to provide safe transportation for students in need.”

Adopting policies to ensure more students are able to safely get to and from school has long been a priority among Illinois policymakers at the state and local level.

Earlier this year, for instance, the Chicago schools expanded a collaborative city effort first implemented in 2009 that’s been shown to reduce crime along the routes children regularly take to get to and from school.

The district’s Safe Passage program, which now serves more than 75,000 students, provides for approved community organizations to monitor locations that are known trouble points for violent crime, fights or drug use in order to deter potential criminal activity along a handful of paths commonly taken by students before and after class.

Analysis of Chicago Police Department crime statistics and school records by the mayor’s office shows that crime along Safe Passage routes has decreased by 32 percent since the 2012-13 school year, and attendance has improved at campuses involved in the program.

While Chicago is often pointed to as one of America’s highest crime cities, it’s actually ranked the 21st most violent city, according to the latest FBI crime reporting data. Meanwhile, St. Louis, Mo.–located on the border with Illinois—is ranked number one.

Earlier this year, parents expressed concern after Illinois state police found the body of a homicide victim while investigating an unrelated murder at a nearby apartment complex located in East St. Louis, Ill. One mother told local reporters that shootings in the area had many children scared to go to school, because they were occurring in areas students often travelled through.

Those students living in high-crime areas or walking through them on the way to and from school can now take the school bus free of charge. Greenwood said school districts can earn reimbursements to help cover the higher cost of transportation.

The bill was originally vetoed by Gov. Bruce Rauner, who said it explicitly excluded Chicago Public Schools, which already has legislation governing the safe travel of students to and from school.  The district, however, relies on a different process and set of criteria to guarantee the safe travel of students than what was proposed in Greenwood’s bill.

“All students in Illinois, regardless of zip code, have the right to safely travel to and from school, and our government has a responsibility to protect that right,” Rauner wrote in this veto message. “However, access to safe transit for students across the state should be evaluated and granted comparably, without any exceptions or carve-outs for particular cities or jurisdictions.”

Lawmakers voted at the end of November to override a handful of the governor’s vetoes, passing bills to, among other things, establish a taskforce to develop curriculum guidelines on social and emotional learning, and require three members of the State Board of Education represent the educator community. more