Chicago Public Schools says it is mailing out transportation stipends this week – a month after school started

A man and two children walk down a sidewalk by a yellow school bus.
Chicago parents of students with disabilities and those in temporary living situations can pick up a transportation stipend up to $500 at their child’s school this week. (Max Herman for Chalkbeat)

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Some Chicago parents will be able to pick up a monthly transportation stipend at their child’s school by the end of this week — a month after the school year started, according to the district.

The stipends — offered to students with disabilities who have bus service in their Individualized Education Program and those in temporary living situations — will be mailed to schools via the postal service this week, officials said. 

This first round of checks will cover August and the maximum stipend is $225, according to the district. Parents will have to pick up the stipend at their child’s school during school hours at the end of each month.

The district encouraged parents over the summer to take transportation stipends up to $500 a month amid a national school bus driver shortage. As of Sept. 21, Over 3,200 families have accepted the district’s monthly stipend, a spokesperson for Chicago Public Schools said. All of those families will receive a check this week.

The delay in mailing out stipends is another part of the district’s ongoing struggle to support families who have students with disabilities and those experiencing homelessness who need transportation.

“We will continue to explore every viable option to increase our transportation options and will continue to ensure every student has safe, secure, and reliable transportation to and from school,” said the spokesperson.

As of last Thursday, the district said it had provided bus service to 7,351 students, with an average travel time of 28 minutes. 

But last week, the district said it had only 681 drivers out of 1,300 bus drivers needed to provide transportation. At the same time, 324 students were waiting for bus services. About 170 requests were received within the last week and the district plans to begin services for 144 students this week. 

Parents have been concerned about long bus travel times to and from school since the beginning of the school year. Last year, some students were on bus routes that were longer than an hour — with 365 students with disabilities on rides longer than 90 minutes. 

The Illinois State Board of Education encourages school districts to limit bus service to less than an hour. Chicago Public Schools has been under state watch since last November for failing to do so. 

As of Sept. 21, the district said 62 students had travel times longer than 60 minutes, but none are on routes lasting more than 90 minutes. 

The state opened another investigation in September after a complaint from advocates and parents alleging that students with disabilities whose Individualized Education Programs include transportation are being denied a “free appropriate public education,” which they are entitled to by federal law. 

The complaint alleges “widespread … delays and denials” across CPS and an “unnecessary administrative burden” because families have to request transportation even after they’ve already been deemed eligible, according to a copy of the complaint obtained by Chalkbeat.

Chicago Public Schools has struggled to provide bus service to students since 2021, when all students returned to school buildings after pandemic closures. The district has cited the national bus driver shortage as the main reason it has not been able to provide transportation to students and for long bus routes. 

This year, the district decided to prioritize bus service for students with disabilities and those experiencing homelessness — both groups are entitled to transportation under federal law. This leaves out thousands of students who attend the district’s selective and magnet schools, which has garnered pushback from parents. 

Correction: Sept. 28, 2023: This article has been updated to reflect that Chicago Public Schools plans to send transportation stipends of up to $500 to families. The amount changes depending on the number of school days that students are in attendance. For the month of August, it will be up to $225.

Becky Vevea contributed to this report.

Samantha Smylie is the state education reporter for Chalkbeat Chicago, covering school districts across the state, legislation, special education, and the state board of education. Contact Samantha at ssmylie@chalkbeat.org.

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