State leaders stump to expand busing distance

By Mike Latona/Catholic Courier    |    02.02.2012


New York's Catholic leaders continue to lobby for legislation that would revise state law to expand the mandated limit from 15 to 25 miles for school districts transporting students to religious and private schools.

The bill is currently sponsored in the Senate (S2402-2011) by Bill Larkin, an Orange County Republican, and in the Assembly (A03966) by Jack McEneny, an Albany County Democrat.

"This has been on our education agenda for many years," said Dennis Poust, communications director for the New York State Catholic Conference -- the public-policy arm of New York's Catholic bishops. "It is becoming increasingly important too, as Catholic schools in many neighborhoods have closed and parents have to send their children further away to access a Catholic education."

Anne Willkens Leach, diocesan superintendent of schools, said expanding the 15-mile limit would have positive effects on enrollment here.

"We’d love to see that (limit) extended. It would help in a myriad of ways," Willkens Leach stated. She said such regionally based schools as DeSales High in Geneva, Notre Dame High in Elmira and Siena Catholic Academy, a diocesan middle school in Brighton, would especially benefit along with elementary schools in the Finger Lakes and Southern Tier. Lisa Dirlam, principal of St. Ann School in Hornell, said she would "absolutely" use the 25-mile bus option in her marketing.

However, some oppose such a measure. In fact, an April 14, 2011, New York Times article quoted one state transportation official as suggesting that the 15-mile limit be reduced to 10 for cost-cutting purposes.

New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan presented a contrasting viewpoint during testimony at a joint legislative budget hearing in February 2011. He argued that making bus travel less available would force more children into public schools, which would in the end be much more costly to taxpayers because they would be shouldering costs currently covered by private-school tuition.

In his legislative address, Archbishop Dolan added that it's already difficult enough for private-school students to secure transportation.

"Next to their ability to afford tuition, the second most common challenge faced by parents in enrolling their children in religious or independent schools is their ability to have their children transported to school," he said.

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