A 2017 Urban Institute analysis estimated the share of families with school-age children who lived within range of different types of schools. Researchers found that 93% of Michigan families reside within five miles of at least one conventional district elementary school. By that same measure, 83% of Michigan families live close to a private elementary school, 72% to an elementary school in a different district and 62% to a public charter elementary school. Yet living within close range of a school may not mean access to a safe environment, an academically enriching program or the best opportunity for a child to succeed.
Michigan school districts and other public school operators are not mandated by state law to provide transportation to students, except for ensuring that students with disabilities have specialized transportation services. A local school board can decide whether to offer transportation to each grade configuration — elementary, middle or high school — or to all students, but must do so on an equal opportunity basis. That means, for example, a district that offers busing to elementary and middle schools must make the service available to all resident students who attend one of those schools or who attend "the nearest state approved nonpublic school" within district boundaries.[*]
Virtually all of the state's conventional K-12 school districts bus students to and from school within the boundaries of their districts. More than a quarter of districts contract out with private providers to bus students back and forth. Schools that operate bus services are required to undergo annual inspections. Records from these inspections indicate that about one-third of Michigan charter schools also provide transportation.
A little over half of U.S. students are transported to public school by yellow bus or other publicly funded means. To the extent Michigan mirrors national trends, a sizable number of young people walk, bike or are driven to school by parents or other adult caregivers. Nevertheless, public schools in Michigan on average spend about 4% of their operating budgets on transporting students to and from school, more than $620 million in 2018. Including transportation services provided by intermediate school districts, the total rises to $750 million. Michigan's spending on student transportation has consistently hovered around $500 per pupil, adjusted for inflation, for at least the past 15 years.
[*] MCL § 380.1321. Article VIII, § 2 of the Michigan Constitution states, “The legislature may provide for the transportation of students to and from any school.”