Where Do Students Choose to Go to School When Public Transportation is Free? A Look at Washington DC’s Kids Ride Free Program
Wise, Andrew S
In the District of Columbia, less than 30 percent of public-school students attend their in-boundary neighborhood school. To make school choice a reality for students, families must determine how to get their children to school, since walking may not be feasible. The logistics and costs of offering school buses to transport students from all areas of the city to school creates a challenge. Instead, Washington, DC offers free access to public transportation for all children ages 5 to 21 enrolled in a DC school through a program that began in 2013 known as Kids Ride Free. One question that has several policy implications, is whether Kids Ride Free, by removing the financial cost of transportation, has changed families’ thinking about mobility and where to enroll their children in school. To address this question, I develop a difference-in-difference model that examines the relationship between the implementation of Kids Ride Free and the percentage of in-boundary students enrolled at neighborhood schools. I test the model using publicly available school-level data for school years 2012-13, 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19. The results suggest a transit-accessible school sees a decrease in the percent of in-boundary students after the implementation of the Kids Ride Free program, in comparison to schools that are not deemed transit-accessible, when controlling for academic proficiency, school level, and poverty. These findings offer guidance for future policymakers as they decide on locations for affordable housing, schools, and public transit stops.
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