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Dr. Peter Cookson, a professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, has dedicated his life to teaching and writing about education reform and policy. He spoke with Route about the school bus’ essential role in public education.
Route Magazine: Why do you believe that the yellow bus is a symbol of hope and optimism?
Peter Cookson: A school bus is really the bloodstream of public education. Without school buses, we wouldn’t have a public education system. They’re fundamental to our concept that every child can go to a school. The school bus represents our financial and moral commitment to make that real, and that doesn’t exist everywhere in the world. If you’re a child and you live in rural New Mexico, it’s expensive for a school bus to go pick you up. And we say, yeah, it’s expensive, but we’re going to do it because we believe in that child’s right to an education.
RM: Do you see school buses as an extension of the classroom?
PC: Children learn a lot on a school bus. And they learn a lot from school bus drivers. Bus drivers are a critical part of the educational system. It’s a tough job. There’s a lot of socialization that has to take place on the bus.
RM: Do you think the support for student transportation is still strong in most districts?
PC: There have been a lot of cutbacks, and that’s bothersome. [Some districts] just don’t have the money to run late buses, so if you’re on a high school athletic team and you don’t have a ride, then you can’t be on that team. That seems wrong to me. Budget cuts sound rational at the time, but they have a big impact on the mission of public schools. No child should be deprived of those opportunities because, you know what? One bus ride can change a child’s life.
Cookson sees public school transportation systems as a promise of access to a free education.