Teenage mothers and other at-risk students attending a downtown alternative school could soon be riding city buses to school for free under a pilot program being developed by the city of Oklahoma City and Oklahoma City Public Schools.
The program for Emerson Mid-High School students is expected to begin in April and could save the school district more than $20,000 annually on bus service, officials said Thursday at a joint meeting of some school board members and city council members.
“Having the option of these services from the city allows us to rethink where the district can best put its resources to work,” said interim Superintendent Dave Lopez. “All of a sudden the money we're spending on our own buses is freed up for instructional uses.”
About 70 percent of Emerson's 160 students are expectant mothers or teen moms and many don't live close to Emerson and don't have transportation.
The district provides bus service for about 45 female Emerson students. Several male students ride Metro Transit to Emerson through private donation, officials said.
Under the proposed plan, the school district would provide supplemental transportation from transit station downtown to Emerson, which is about three blocks away.
If successful, the program could be expanded to include free city bus service to career academies, enterprise schools and after-school programs, opening doors for students who might otherwise not be able to participate, officials said.
“What the Emerson pilot and the partnership with the city will give is a whole new range of possibilities,” Lopez said. “Students won't be restricted on choices by their ZIP code.”
Metro Transit is realigning routes systemwide to improve service, and many neighborhood routes are being reconfigured to include major thoroughfares, said Michael Scroggins, spokesman for Metro Transit.
“We're looking at this as an opportunity to help keep kids in school and introduce our younger audience to public transportation,” Scroggins said. “They become more independent because thy do have a transportation option.”
The Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority is meeting next week to approve the plan to offer free service to Emerson students.
Scroggins said he did not anticipate any reason why the authority would not approve the pilot program.