Rev. William Smart (File photo)

When California’s leaders talk about educational equity, there’s usually no argument about whether to cut or eliminate transportation options for disadvantaged communities. Most people understand that transportation is critical for helping students succeed in school. After all, in order to succeed in class, you have to get there first.

But Senate Bill 88 (SB 88) is taking us backward, eliminating a service that’s helping some of California’s most marginalized students get access to education. While few truly understand the harm this bill could cause, I have proudly advocated for underserved communities in Southern California, and I cannot sit silent.

This bill would add numerous requirements onto a ride service many in our communities rely on. It would make it harder for kids to get safe transportation, and it could make it even harder for schools to provide the transportation federal laws require of them. In short: this bill means more kids will struggle to get to the classroom, and in turn, more kids in our communities will struggle to attend school and even to graduate.

For anyone who could doubt that getting to school is a core part of getting the most out of school, the data is clear. A report from UCLA shows the obstacles that underserved communities, like kids in foster care, experiencing homelessness, and with disabilities, face and the impact that access to transportation can have. The unfortunate truth is that too often, these vulnerable students are left behind by traditional school transportation, and lacking a family member who can drive them to school, they are pointed to public transit, taxis, or multi-hour commutes– options that can be more unpredictable, less safe, or leave kids exhausted. Take Tariq. He took two, sometimes three, public transportation buses for an hour and a half to and from school each day. With better access to transportation and more time to dedicate to his school work, Tariq believes he would have had more opportunities to participate in after-school activities and be a more successful student.

There is hope, however. The UCLA report explains that when students have access to door-to-door transportation, it can level the playing field. When schools have more options, then it’s more likely that kids will be matched with a transportation option that best fits their needs. This isn’t just about saving time; it’s what that saved time brings for students in Southern California – better attendance, improved grades, and better mental health. The time saved can be channeled into achieving goals and better school performance.

But with SB 88 on the horizon, there’s a real danger to this progress. By trying to cut these crucial transportation services, the bill will make it even harder for students who are already on the edge of our system to get an education. This doesn’t seem to align with the values we hold dear in California: educational fairness and social justice.

These issues, together with the progress we have made for our students in the last few years, leave the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, among others, urging Governor Newsom to do one thing: veto SB 88. This isn’t just about policy; it’s about California’s commitment to its future – the students.

Our state is at a critical point right now, one that will shape our educational and societal story. The path we choose will show our shared priorities and values. This isn’t just about getting to school; it’s about who we are as Californians. Are we really willing to invest in the next generation, or do we let these kids, like Tariq, who had a 3-hour daily commute, struggle just to get to the opportunities they deserve?

In a state known for being innovative and forward-thinking, it’s up to us to make sure no child, regardless of where they come from, is left behind. We must strongly support and protect the services that truly level the playing field.

As the debate over SB 88 gets louder, we need to come together and tell Governor Newsom how concerned we are. The future of countless students depends on his decision. It’s crucial that the Governor sees the impact this bill could have and uses his power to say “No to SB 88.” Our choices today, especially those made by leaders, will define California’s legacy. Governor Newsom has a unique chance to stand up for unity and equality and show his unwavering support for our students.

Rev. William Smart is the president/CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California