At this week’s State Board of Education meeting the usually mundane topic of transportation was addressed, revealing some serious issues relating to transportation at charter schools. Under North Carolina law, charter schools are exempt from statutes and rules applicable to traditional public schools. The purpose of this law is to allow for innovation and to let charters to circumvent teaching licensing standards. Oddly, this law also exempts charters from the school bus safety regulations that are followed by public schools.
Derek Graham, chief of the Department of Public Instructions Transportation Division, stated that currently only 40 of 98 (41%) of charter schools provide transportation for their students even though they do receive funds for transportation. This causes students who cannot provide for their own transportation to be excluded from these schools and contributes to the higher levels of segregation found in North Carolina charter schools . Mr. Graham was concerned that if charter school buses were held to the same standards as public school buses, the few charters that do provide transportation will stop because most of the buses they use are retired public school buses that no longer make the grade.
However, as Chairman of the State Board of Education William Harrison rightfully pointed out, student safety comes first and there is really no way to get around that. Most of the regulations that have been enacted were in response to accidents and incidents involving buses in the past that nobody wants to see repeated. The Board now faces a no-win situation and must decide whether they should effectively decrease the already minimal level of transportation services at charter schools or push student safety by the wayside.