For years many Chicago Public School students have had to deal with long and expensive daily commutes to school.
But a new pilot program announced Monday looks to give a few of them relief this year.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the program this morning alongside members of the Mikva Challenge Mayoral Youth Commission, a student group that works with the Mayor to suggest new ideas for the city. Emanuel said that 500 students spread equally among five high schools would be provided with free bus and train rides to school for the first half of the year. It’s part of a program to see if attendance rates are affected by the cost of transit.
The participating schools are Roberto Clemente Community Academy in West Town, Richards Career Academy in New City, Sullivan High School in Rogers Park, TEAM Englewood Community Academy High School in Englewood and Wells Community Academy High School in West Town.
In total, there are over 100,000 high school students enrolled in the CPS system, many of whom are enrolled in the student reduced fare card program.
As reported by WBEZ last December, for the past several years Wells had implemented their own program to combat increasing attendance programs, which they called the Transportation Incentive Program. 60 kids were given free fare cards for the 2011-12 school year, paid for out of the school’s discretionary funds; Wells reported that for that year, daily attendance for TIP program participants was 85 percent, three percent higher than the school average. The school also saw a 31 percent increase in attendance for those particular students.
“When I was campaigning I’d be out at the El stops and there’s not a time that I hadn’t been at an "L" stop where I have not had kids come to me and say, ‘Can you give me 50 cents, can you give me a dollar so I can get to school?’” Emanuel said. “And so as soon as [Mikva presented the idea of a free fare card], it touched a chord with me, a responsive chord, that our kids at many times face the difficulty of getting to school.”
Emanuel said he particularly liked the idea that students would be contractually obligated to keep up their attendance rates by enrolling in the progam.
The program is being bankrolled by Chicago philanthropist Wendy Abrams, who has given $50,000 to be divided evenly among the schools. When asked how the program could be funded if it was expanded further, Emanuel pointed to the possibility of additional public-private partnerships.
In August of 2011, Mikva released a student-led report entitled Youth Voice: Ushering in a New
Era for Chicago, where they recommended the Chicago Transit Authority create a card called the “Chi-card” that would function as a universal card for all students, combining their library cards, school IDs and CTA transit cards. In their vision, the rides on that card would be unlimited and free.
Citing similar programs in Washington D.C. and San Francisco, the report stated that:
The University of Chicago’s Network for College Success will be tracking attendance data during the pilot program to see if the program works. The University also helped picked the schools that would be participating in the program, each of which will be tailored to the needs of specific schools.
“In order to use the reduced fare card on trains, you must show your student permit, then the CTA worker will then let you through. Most of the time, the CTA workers are not present in the area at the time, so youth have problems using them which makes them late to their destination. This card would eliminate the problem of students being late and waiting on a CTA worker to let them through, even when they do have their permit present. It also would save students the trouble of carrying different cards they use every day, all day.
Another problem is that many students cannot afford to get to school. Because of this, their attendance rates drop. It is not that they don’t want to go, but that they cannot afford to get there.”
“We think that this is important because we really do live in a world-class city and education is a right for all youth,” said Augustine Flores, a member of the Mikva Challenge group.
For now, Emanuel seemed confident that attendance and the cost of transit are connected.
“I do want to also say the data coming out of Wells, not just on attendance, but also on the disciplinary issues and also on the graduation are all indications that transportation was actually a barrier,” said Emanuel. “It was a barrier that was also in sync with what I was seeing at each of the CTA stations throughout the city.”
The CTA also announced this morning that they will be continue to provide free rides to all Chicago Public Schools students on Tuesday, September 4, the first day of a school, through a partnership with Sun-Times Media, who will contribute $150,000 to the program.
Last week, the hours for student reduced fare card use were expanded to match the longer school day.