Portland Public Schools: Jim Crow Transportation

Denver Got it Right

Posted by Vance Feld on December 5, 2014

School Choice Requires Transportation Choice

Not the Elimination of the Lottery System

PPS has many similar programs. Denver Public Schools might even think we were *copying* them. In fact, DPS was used as a role model school system during recent PPS reforms. When I went to school in Denver, we had a lottery system, magnet schools, charters, Gifted and Talented program, and a world-renowned International Baccalaureate program. But what did we have that Portland doesn't? Bus routes.

The Numbers Lie

I rode the school bus two hours each day as a child to get to my G&T magnet programs at various elementary schools. Yes, I chose to go to the magnet programs, but that decision should be regardless of parental income or affluence, AKA ability to spend large sums of time or money transporting their children. The PPS Advisory Committee on Enrollment and Transfer's recommendation to do away with the lottery system to use a more subjective "need based" school assignment is predicated on a false interpretation of the numbers that affluent parents are the only ones who typically use the lottery system.

Just look at the magnet school Benson, a very diverse school. It does not appear that there is a lack of interest by minorities in enrolling here. Why? Because at the high school level all students are given free bus passes and can presumably get there without parental guidance and time, which translates to loss of wages. Benson High: Top Demographics
  • African American 21.2%
  • Asian 15.5%
  • Hispanic 29.0%
  • White 28.6%
  • Native American 0.5%
Source: http://www.pps.k12.or.us/schools-c/profiles/enrollment/enroll_out.php?rpt=752

To the Contrary

I contend that low-income families don't utilize the magnet programs because PPS does not offer transportation for K-8 magnet programs. "You decided to send them there, so you gotta figure out how to get them there." was the response one anonymous parent received when asking about transportation to one of Portland's focus schools. I say that "need" should also include transit—it's the only fair way.

I Agree With Brennon's Conclusion

Enrollment and Transfer Director Judy Brennon states that changing lottery policy alone would not increase diversity in the Oregonian Article Changing Portland Public Schools' focus school transfer lottery could boost diversity, study shows. Brennon goes on to include transportation in a list of things that need improvement. I do think that the low lottery application rates among underprivileged students is a direct result of PPS not offering any transportation to these students, a burden too high to even apply.

The Solution

It's simple: keep the lottery, give low income and minorities some numerical advantage and add mandatory transportation. It's not that hard. Denver Public Schools piggybacked the magnet school kids on the Special Needs routes which were going all accross town anyway. Long story short, I rode the short bus.