Public aid for the transportation of private elementary and secondary school pupils in the United States

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

The purpose of this study was to assess the legal and financial status of public aid for the transportation of private elementary and secondary school pupils in the United States. A combination of legal and survey research methodology was used to approach the study in three phases.

A survey was sent to all states to identify those which were providing publicly-funded transportation to nonpublic school pupils through November, 1982. Upon completion of this initial survey all reported state and federal court cases relating to the public financing of private school transportation were then researched, including the landmark Everson case of 1947. Through a second survey financial data for the 1981-82 school year were collected and analyzed for those states identified as providers of private school transportation aid.

The study showed that thirty states were providing transportation services to nonpublic pupils in 1982, with twenty-one of these states mandating such transportation by local school districts. The extent of publicly-funded transportation offered to private school pupils in the provider states was found in general to be at least comparable to or possibly even more extensive than that provided at public expense to public school pupils.

The study also indicated that, excluding the Everson decision by the Supreme Court in 1947, the issue of nonpublic pupil transportation provision has been decided almost wholly on a state constitutional basis of church and state separation requirements. The exception to this has been the involvement of the federal courts in the 1970’s in deciding the constitutionality of outside-district transportation provided by public funds for nonpublic pupils.

In regard to the financial analysis the ten provider states with complete fiscal data reported that $148.6 million was spent to provide nonpublic pupil transportation services. Another $25.5 million was estimated for private school transportation costs in five additional provider states with partial data. While the remaining fifteen provider states authorized private school transportation, a documentation of costs was not reported to the study and it is possible that recorded financial data may not exist to differentiate public and private school pupil transportation costs in these states.