School Consolidation and Transportation Policy: An Empirical and Institutional Analysis

Last Updated: April 24, 2000

School Consolidation and Transportation Policy

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by Kiernan Killeen and John Sipple, Cornell University

This study traces actual transportation costs across states and the relationship between transportation and instructional costs. Since 1930, as the number of school districts has shrunk with consolidation from 120,000 to under about 18,000 today, the percentage of students bused to school has increased from under 10 to nearly 60 percent. Costs of this transportation system have spiraled upward, remaining below $2 billion until the mid-1950s, (all figures adjusted for inflation), then doubling by 1970 and doubling again by the early 80s. By the mid-1990s, total U.S. spending on student transportation had reached over $10 billion, and continues upward.

Despite the assumption that larger schools lower per pupil costs, the transportation costs actually escalate with increasing school size, according to authors Killeen and Sipple. As the number of children per school multiplied five-fold between 1930 and 1996, the per pupil transportation cost actually doubled. These problems are particularly severe in rural areas, where per-pupil transportation costs are double urban costs, and where transportation's share of total current spending on instruction is 77% higher than in urban areas.