No evidence yet bus loop enticing students to return to Detroit schools

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News
Trinity Transportation general manager Joel Matanzas shakes hands with a student before he gets on a Detroit GOAL line school bus at University Yes Academy in Detroit earlier this school year.

Detroit — A four-month study of a $1.2 million bus loop created to bring children back to Detroit schools shows the system provided 13,500 rides but no evidence yet that families are returning to the city's schools.

The Community Education Commission — which operates the GOAL line which stands for "get on and learn" — met this week to discuss a progress report on the system, which began in September and serves six schools in the Detroit Public Schools Community District and four charter schools in the area near McNichols and the Lodge Freeway.

The northwest Detroit school bus loop pilot is intended to bring Detroit children who attend school outside the city back into Detroit schools, according to Mayor Mike Duggan, who championed the school transit plan last year.

Duggan has said 32,000 Detroit children go to schools in the suburbs while 51,000 attend the city’s public schools.

On Monday, Michigan State University researchers Emily Mohr and Kaitlin Anderson with the Education Policy Innovation Collaboration said a parent survey on the GOAL line, which has been operational for four months, showed most families used the system because it provides free after-school programming to Detroit schools they were already using.

”We cannot yet say that GOAL Line is responsible for keeping families in city school options, but the high rates of satisfaction and awareness among these parents suggest the service is a meaningful component of their experience with Detroit schools,” the report’s authors say. 

Asked whether the GOAL line was a factor in the parent's choice of school this year, 58 percent said it was not a factor, 30 percent said it was a factor in keeping their child in a Detroit charter or DPSCD school and 12 percent said they chose a Detroit school for their child because of the bus loop.

Asked why they used the system, the survey found 60 percent said it provides free after-school care or programs, and 11 percent said it "made it easier" to attend a Detroit school.

The response rate on the survey was 36 percent, officials said, for the eight-day survey done just before Christmas.

About 150 students are using the system, Community Education Commission program manager Chanay R. Peterson said. The number of students using the bus line ranges from two a month at one school and as many as 114 a month at another school.

Peterson said the morning average is 46 students and the afternoon average is 148 students. The number of rides peaked in October at 4,823 and were lowest in September, when the system started, at 2,065.

The school with the highest number of riders was Cornerstones Lincoln-King, a charter school, which saw between 92 and 114 riders a month. Foreign Language Immersion and Cultural Studies, a DPSCD school, was the next highest having from nine to 59 riders a month.

About 124 a month used the after-school programming connected to the GOAL line, according to the researchers.

Stephanie A. Young, executive director of the CEC, said she and the staff have scheduled meetings with several principals whose schools are on the loop in an effort to increase attendance in the system.

"We want to know from them what their students feel about it and then what their parents (feel)," Young said. 

The program has two ways for a school to pay: $1,000 per student registered in the loop program or each school pays $25,000 a year. DPSCD pays $1,000 per student and committed to only one year of the five-year program.

DPSCD Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, a commission board member, said on Tuesday the district will review the data and determine whether to participate next year or replicate the bus loop concept for its own schools in different patterns. Vitti said 75 students are registered to use the system.

"We decided to invest in the initiative by only paying for each DPSCD student who used the bus line or participated in the after-school programming to ensure that we would not subsidize charter participation and protect our limited assets," Vitti said. "The preliminary data implies that this was the right decision.

"In the end, the initiative helped our participating students arrive to school easier and expanded after-school programming at a reduced cost. That's what matters to us."

Alexis Wiley, chief of staff for Duggan, said data from the report shows a strong start for the system.

"After only four months in operation, 31 percent of current GOAL Line parents surveyed had previously considered leaving the district, and 34 percent specifically chose to keep their child in a DPSCD or Detroit charter school because of the GOAL Line," Wiley said. "This is a strong start, and we are going to keep building upon it."

The loop serves 10 public schools in northwest Detroit. The six Detroit public schools in the program are: Vernor, Bagley, Schulze, John R. King, Coleman A. Young, and FLICS The four charter schools are: Detroit Achievement, University YES Academy, MacDowell Preparatory and Cornerstone Lincoln-King.

The loop picks up participating children at the school closest to their homes and transports them to the school of their choice on the line.

When school is over, students can hop on the loop to attend programs at recreation center. In the evenings, students can take the loop back to their bus stops near home.