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When charter schools don't provide busing

Today's story focuses on Elmwood Village Charter School's plans to move into the former School 36 on Days Park.

One of the sidenotes in that story, though, is just as interesting as the main focus: because of the pending move, Elmwood Village is looking into providing busing to its students.

Currently, it is one of four elementary-level charter schools in Buffalo that does not provide transportation. The other three: Buffalo United, Westminster and Tapestry.

The families that can access those schools, then, are either those who live nearby or those who are able to transport their children to and from school.

Keep in mind that, under state law, charter schools must hold a public lottery to assign their seats. That means that charter schools must use a random process for selecting their students. The only kids who can legally get preference are those with a sibling already attending the school.

Elmwood Village Charter SchoolWell, let's take a minute to consider how these four schools may have been affected by their decisions not to offer transportation.

First, remember that throughout the Buffalo Public Schools, 77 percent of students come from families poor enough to qualify for free or reduced lunch, according to the most recent numbers available from the state. (These figures are from 2009-10, as are all the numbers cited here, as they are the most recent available from the State Education Department.) So across the city as a whole, that's how many kids qualify for subsidized lunch.

Now, let's consider Westminster Community Charter School. It is located in one of the poorest ZIP codes in Buffalo, 14215. The vast majority of kids at Westminster come from the immediate neighborhood. Of the kids at Westminster, 85 percent qualify for subsidized lunch. That's 7 percentage points higher than the public schools across the entire city.

Buffalo United Charter School does not offer yellow bus service to students, but does offer NFTA bus passes (the school's oldest students are in eighth grade). The school is located just off East Amherst Street, a stone's throw from Bennett High School, in the 14214 ZIP code -- also one of the poorest parts of the city.

Students at Buffalo United getting subsidized lunch: 91 percent.

Next up, Tapestry Charter School.

Until recently, Tapestry had been located more or less along the southern edge of the Delaware District (or Elmwood Village, if you prefer that term), one of the most affluent parts of the city -- and now is located on Great Arrow Drive, just north of that part of town.

(Tapestry, it's worth noting, is a K-12 school, unlike the other three we're talking about. Students at Tapestry High School get NFTA bus passes and therefore, it stands to reason, are more likely to come from various parts of the city. The school's subsidized lunch rate, though, is calculated on a schoolwide basis, so there's no way to separate out the elementary portion of the school.)

Students at Tapestry who qualify for free or reduced lunch: 33 percent -- the lowest of any charter school in the city.

In at a close second, though, is Elmwood Village Charter School -- where 36 percent of kids qualify for subsidized lunch.

Elmwood Village Charter School is located on Elmwood Avenue, near Allen Street -- at the southern edge of the Delaware District. (Officials there note that the school is also very close to the less-affluent Lower West Side.)

So, to review, both Tapestry and Elmwood Village charter schools have a subsidized lunch rate less than half that of the city's public schools as a whole.

That's a fact.

Consider, too, that Tapestry and Elmwood Village consistently score among the best schools in the city on standardized tests. 

That's a fact, too.

(You can check it out for yourself. Here's the database of math and English scores from 2011.)

Educational research consistently establishes a strong correlation between students' family income and students' academic outcomes. In fact, family income one of the strongest predictors of outcomes. Schools in the wealthiest communities -- Clarence, Orchard Park, Amherst -- consistently get the best results.

That's largely why Business First's annual ranking of the schools never turns up any shockers.

Now, I'm not saying that those suburban schools are not doing a good job -- just as I'm not saying these particular charter schools are not doing a good job.

What I am saying is that the research clearly has established that schools serving more affluent students are statistically far more likely to produce better results. Something in the neighborhood of three-fourths of a school's results can be predicted by the family income of their students.

So back to our charter schools here in Buffalo.

Keep in mind, these schools are within their rights to not provide busing to students. It is their choice.

Tapestry officials have said that they feel it is very important to establish the climate that children experience in school -- and when students spend the first half-hour or more of their day on a bus, school officials can't ensure that that climate will be one of mutual respect.

Tapestry officials have also said that they opt to spend their money in the classroom, not on transportation.

(For the record: Charter schools that offer transportation pay for busing only on days that their school is in session, but the Buffalo Public Schools are not. That means if a charter school has the exact same calendar as the district schools, the charter school would not pay for busing. The district pays for transportation, and the state reimburses 85 percent of the cost. However, charters do pay for any days of busing when they are in session but the district is not. For instance, one local charter that has a 200-day school year -- about 20 days longer than the district -- pays $75,000 a year for those extra days of busing.)

Officials at Elmwood Village have said that their school is on a readily accessible NFTA bus route, and that the school is conveniently located not only for people living in the Elmwood Village, but for people who work in that area and live elsewhere.

As today's story notes, Elmwood Village is considering offering transportation to students once the school moves off Elmwood Avenue and onto Days Park, which is not on an NFTA route.

It will be interesting to see whether the school ends up deciding to offer transportation -- and, if it does, what effect that might have.

(Note: There is one elementary school in the Buffalo Public Schools with a subsidized lunch rate just as low as Tapestry and Elmwood Village charter schools. I'll give you one guess which school that is. Think. Discuss. Come back to School Zone later this week to compare your answer.)

- Mary Pasciak

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About School Zone

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee joined The Buffalo News in 2007 and currently covers education and suburban schools. She also writes a column for the City & Region section and previously covered government in Erie County and Niagara Falls. Gee graduated from Boston University with degrees in journalism and political science.

@denisejewellgee |

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes joined The Buffalo News in 2013 and primarily covers the Buffalo Public Schools. She has written about education since 2003 at newspapers in Florida and New York. In 2008, she was a nominated finalist for The Pulitzer Prize. Lankes is an Amherst native and graduate of Sacred Heart Academy and Syracuse University. She started her journalism career writing for the News’ NeXt section.

@TiffanyLankes |

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan has been a cityside reporter for The Buffalo News since 2000 and currently covers the Buffalo Public Schools beat. She previously covered the Williamsville school district and was a full-time education reporter for five years prior to joining The News. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

@BNschoolzone |

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams began working for The Buffalo News in 1999 and currently covers Buffalo Public Schools. She formerly was a suburban reporter on the Northtowns beat and has been a cityside reporter covering communities since 2004. Williams has a mass communications degree from Towson University.

@DeidreWilliamsB |