Arizona school transportation grant program returns for its second year

When Black Mothers Forum applied for an Arizona transportation grant last year, its micro-schools were struggling to provide transit for all students, said founder Janelle Wood. 

“As we started to bring the children back into the school setting, many of them were still having problems getting to school, so they were still sitting in this at-home, remote status,” Wood said. The group’s micro-schools have small class sizes and mixed grade levels.

After losing students because they couldn’t get to school, Wood said Black Mothers Forum decided to provide transportation at an affordable cost. The group submitted a proposal to receive grant funding for a smartphone app to coordinate community carpools. 

“We assign drivers to families,” Wood said. “Now the children feel safe because they now know this person, and the family gets to know this person.” 

Black Mothers Forum was awarded $100,000 through the Arizona Transportation Modernization Grants Program, which aims to improve access to reliable and safe transportation for students. Wood said Black Mothers Forum is preparing to launch its carpool app, SAFE.  

The second round of the Transportation Modernization Grants Program is now open. Applicants can submit proposals through Nov. 2. 

Creating an incentive to be innovative

The Arizona Transportation Modernization Grants Program is available for K-12 transportation solutions to help public school students get back and forth from class.   

Education advocacy nonprofit A for Arizona administers the state program.   

“The whole point is to look at different ways to approach K-12 transit, and to also drive efficiency solutions,” said Emily Anne Gullickson, A for Arizona’s chief executive officer. “We know that transportation barriers are real, and costs have been through the roof.”   

Applicants must map out a budget in their proposal and grant requests cannot exceed $2 million, Gullickson said.  

“There really hasn’t been incentive for thought-forward leaders to be more efficient or innovative” when it comes to school transit, Gullickson said. 

At least 25% of the annual grant funds must go to proposals that support rural or remote schools and communities.  

Past recipients include Tolleson, Vista 

The Arizona Transportation Modernization Grants Program is funded for three years and started last year, Gullickson said.   

Last year’s grant cycle allocated funds to 24 proposals.  

In addition to the Black Mothers Forum, recipients included Tolleson Union High School District and Vista College Preparatory, a K-8 network of five charter schools in Phoenix.

Tolleson Union was awarded $2 million to implement ridesharing for students and create pick-up and drop-off hubs for those who reside outside the district. 

The district is working with HopSkipDrive, a company that hires people to transport students to school and other activities. Jeremy Calles, the chief financial officer of Tolleson Union, said 186 students in the district are using the service.  

“Parents told me that without this service, they don’t think they’ll be able to keep their kids in our school,” Calles said. “I’ve heard from other parents that are just ecstatic that this allowed their child to go ahead and participate in extracurricular activities.”   

After facing bus driver shortages, Vista College Preparatory proposed a community partnership to increase access to safe transportation, said Kela Powers, the network’s director of enrollment.  

Vista College Preparatory received $1 million to partner with several Boys & Girls Clubs for student transportation. 

“We came upon the idea of how we could really utilize this fleet of minibusses that the Boys & Girls Clubs already have to increase the number of stops and routes that we’re able to provide to our community of students while also increasing their membership,” Powers said.

Gullickson said the A for Arizona anticipates the current cycle of grant proposals will bring new approaches to school transportation concerns.     

“I think we’re going to learn a lot from this next round,” she said. “Hopefully, it will spark some really important and timely conversations with our policymakers and other interested community partners around how we approach and fund K-12 transportation.”

Reach the reporter at EForquer@gannett.com

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