Quality education is often seen as a means to achieve greater upward socioeconomic mobility, but in some cases, a different kind of mobility is needed to access that kind of education in the first place. In Michigan’s lower-income urban communities, where educational options are most heavily in demand, accessing the most suitable and desired schools is often limited by the availability and affordability of convenient transportation. Michigan could support low-income families’ efforts to transport their children to better schools and boost these children’s chances for upward socioeconomic mobility by creating Student Mobility Scholarships.
In 2017, then-Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Saginaw Twp., chair of the House school aid appropriations subcommittee, proposed creating a dedicated funding stream to reimburse school districts for providing transportation to low-income students. Charter schools and districts accepting transfer students through Schools of Choice would have been eligible for these reimbursements. But the proposed language was ultimately withdrawn. The idea regained some political support, however, when Bill Schuette, a gubernatorial candidate in the 2018 Michigan election, made the idea of transportation scholarships a part of his policy platform.
A transportation scholarship plan is rooted in the idea of providing a more level playing field for Michigan's most economically disadvantaged families. Charter schools and other public school choice programs have expanded opportunities for students to choose different educational settings that serve them better, and these options are especially important for low-income students who make use of them at a disproportionately high rate.
Two obstacles to exercising educational choice are commonly identified: lack of access to meaningful and accurate information on school performance and a lack of affordable, reliable transportation. Student Mobility Scholarships would be designed to make educational choice more equitable by removing that second barrier. It seems particularly fitting that the state once known for its dominant role in the automotive industry could drive this type of innovation forward.