Providence now expects to provide free bus passes to more high school students

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – If all goes according to plan, Providence high school students who live at least two miles from school will be eligible for free bus passes beginning in the next school year.

The City Council Finance Committee is expected to announce several amendments to Mayor Jorge Elorza’s proposed $696.1-million budget Thursday, including a plan to spend about $680,000 to provide the additional monthly RIPTA bus passes to high school students across the city.

A spokesman for Elorza confirmed the administration and council had reached a deal to expand the city bus policy. The funds will come from the city budget, not the school department.

The Finance Committee could approve the spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1 as soon as Thursday evening. That would set up the required two votes on the budget by the full council sometime next week.

The last-minute budget changes will undoubtedly be cheered by the Providence Student Union, the student activist group that has urged the city to reduce the required walking distance for high school students for more than a year.

The group convinced the city to cut the distance from three miles to 2.5 miles for the current school year. Then, after Elorza did not include the funding for bus passes in his proposed budget, the students rallied in City Hall to call attention to their plight.

It now seems the mayor and City Council got the message.

The changes mean roughly 1,000 additional high school students will be eligible to ride the bus to school, although not every student is expected to apply for a pass, according to Zack Mezera, executive director of the Providence Student Union.

In a statement, the group praised Elorza and the City Council for providing the extra passes.

“This change will provide thousands of students with a safe and reliable way to access their education,” the group stated. “We are grateful to our many community supporters, allies, and partners for their support in this campaign; to the City Council for their leadership on this issue; and to Mayor Elorza for working with PSU’s student leaders to make school bus passes a priority in the city budget.”

Elementary and middle school students in the city ride a traditional yellow bus to school.

The Finance Committee is also expected to consider a slight tax break for landlords across the city, but details of the final plan have not emerged.

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

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