While Student Mobility Scholarships ultimately could benefit families throughout Michigan, the state Legislature should consider authorizing a pilot program targeted to a specific city or part of a larger city. This would improve the chances of effective implementation and make it possible to test the effects at a reasonable scale. Within the pilot region, a limited number of scholarships could be made available.
Based on the number of students, schools and potential drivers, a region encompassing part of the city of Detroit could serve as a prime area for a student transportation scholarship pilot. But it may make more sense to pilot a program in a smaller urban setting, where demand for school choice is similar to Detroit, such as Flint or Saginaw. The ability to study the program’s effectiveness could be enhanced by also making it available in a variety of locales, including select rural and suburban areas. For the same purpose, the program should use a lottery process to randomize the selection of scholarship recipients from the pool of applicants.
Piloting a user-focused funding mechanism to provide transportation as a public service has some precedent in the state. More than a decade ago, the Michigan Developmental Disabilities Council oversaw a transportation voucher initiative that increased mobility for a vulnerable population. The program reportedly helped hundreds of disabled riders better access job opportunities and medical appointments, as well as perform errands and volunteer activities.
Challenges in keeping this program going revolved around finding enough vehicles that could serve people in wheelchairs and encouraging participants to make full use of their opportunities to travel. As the Great Recession hit, county government partners pulled back from funding the program. It is difficult to assess the effectiveness of this program, but no serious problems were reported.