Holly Bihm will save gas money and get a little more rest on weekdays before heading to work at a hotel on the Strip.
That’s because her boys — who are in kindergarten and first grades — will now be able to take a school bus to get to Sage Collegiate, a public charter school in Las Vegas.
The school plans to offer school bus transportation beginning Monday, thanks to new state funding.
Bihm, who lives about 5 miles away from Sage Collegiate, said she’s excited that the school will provide bus transportation and that it will be convenient.
With having to drive to and from school every day, “it made our schedules a little more difficult because you have to work around a lot of things,” she said.
The state Legislature appropriated $14 million for charter school transportation funding over the next two years.
Charter schools must submit a transportation plan to the Nevada State Public Charter School Authority and receive approval in order to get funding.
So far, the charter authority has approved transportation plans for 21 schools and the total spending is nearly $4.4 million, as of Monday.
“The application window has been extended to the end of January so we do anticipate approving additional schools,” charter authority Executive Director Melissa Mackedon wrote in an email this week to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Of the 21 schools with approved transportation plans, 10 will be contracting with a third-party vendor to provide the service, she said.
The state’s charter authority oversees about 80 campuses serving more than 60,000 students.
Public charter schools are free for students to attend and the schools receive state funding. But unlike school districts, they don’t get money specifically for transportation.
Charter schools previously had the option of offering transportation if they figured out how to pay for it using other funding sources, but few did.
Sage Collegiate — which opened in 2022 and has nearly 250 students in kindergarten through sixth grades at its West Charleston Boulevard campus — was approved to receive $111,400 in state funding for transportation for this school year.
The school wrote in its application: “Presently, the absence of dedicated transportation has led to withdrawal or non-enrollment of potential students, exacerbating chronic absenteeism patterns. Key reasons for this include the high cost of public transit, incompatibility of public transit schedules with parent work hours, and lack of personal transportation.”
Improving recruitment and attendance
Sage Collegiate is contracting with Bright Yellow Lines to provide school bus transportation.
The new local company was formed in July and David Blodgett — former executive director of Nevada Prep, a charter school — is listed as the registered agent, according to online state business license records.
The new state funding for charter school transportation is huge and is making some of its biggest impact on new schools, Blodgett told the Review-Journal in late November.
Enrollment is often a struggle for new schools and when transportation is offered, it makes recruitment easier, he said.
If a school has empty seats, Blodgett said, offering transportation is a strong return on investment.
“Transportation is the best thing to spend your money on,” he said.
Offering transportation also translates to better student attendance, Blodgett said, and makes school choice a more real thing for families — even for schools that are full.
Sage Collegiate Executive Director Sandra Kinne — who’s also a Nevada State Public Charter School Authority board member — said she’s working on an amendment to her school’s transportation plan to request more funding to be used for a shuttle van.
She said she wants to collaborate with other schools to hire an attendance coordinator who could use the van to help get students to school in situations such as when a parent has a car break down or is in the hospital.
Bus information sessions at Sage Collegiate
A few information sessions were held last month at Sage Collegiate to share details about school busing with parents and to answer questions.
The Clark County School District transports more than 100,000 students each day and has the largest district-owned-and-operated bus fleet in the country.
But for local charter schools, transportation has been “pretty uncommon,” Blodgett told parents during a Nov. 17 information session that had both in-person and virtual attendance.
Blodgett said that for years efforts have been made to advocate for state funding for charter school transportation.
Bus company officials presented a proposed Sage Collegiate bus route map to parents. Possible stops included Cashman Middle School, Lied Memorial Boys & Girls Club, Firefighters Memorial Park, Adcock Elementary School, Red Rock Elementary School and Gary Dexler Park.
Kinne told parents that Bright Yellow Lines created the bus route based on current students’ addresses.
Blodgett said the goal is to start a second bus route for Sage Collegiate in mid-January, noting it’s an ambitious but realistic timeline.
Blodgett told parents the bus that will be used for Sage Collegiate transportation has already been purchased.
Several parents at the meeting had specific questions about bus stops and whether a second route in the future will be closer to where they live.
In response to a question from a parent, Blodgett said the company doesn’t have mobile app notifications yet for when students get on and off buses, but would like to have an automated system in the future.
“For now, it’s pretty old school communication,” he said.
Diamond Peterson — who has two daughters, in kindergarten and third grades, at Sage Collegiate — told the Review-Journal that she’s excited the school will offer bus transportation.
“It’s actually awesome to me,” she said.
Currently, it takes about 15 minutes — including freeway driving — to get to school. And the family is moving further away from campus in a couple of weeks.
The school’s first bus route is “super convenient” with where they live now, Peterson said, but it won’t be once they move.
She said it’s great that a parent survey was conducted and feedback was used to shape routes based on where the most people live.
Peterson said her family might wait for a second bus route to start early next year, but may also try the first route because it’s still more convenient than their commute now.
Edith Vela, who has a daughter in first grade at Sage Collegiate, said that bus transportation will be beneficial
“I think it’s awesome that they’re offering that,” she said.
Vela said that they live about 2 miles away from the school and that they’re waiting for the second bus route to begin early next year because it will be on their side of town.
‘Help our friends out’
Nevada Prep began offering school bus transportation in 2018 using general operating funds. Since the state charter school authority doesn’t have a transportation department, school leaders volunteered to talk with other schools interested in the topic.
“It was a fun way to help our friends out,” Blodgett said.
School leaders, he said, typically would say about 10 minutes into the conversation that school busing sounded expensive and they couldn’t afford to do it.
Once state funding for charter school transportation became a likely scenario, the number of calls increased tenfold, Blodgett said, and he didn’t think they could do it as a side project anymore.
Now, Bright Yellow Lines’ school bus fleet is a mix of buses that individual schools purchased and ones the company bought, Blodgett said. And some smaller schools are using shuttles.
One big bottleneck was finding used school buses, Blodgett said, while noting that situation has improved.
Blodgett said there’s a backlog of people ready to start as bus drivers as soon as a route is available for them.
He didn’t provide the specific number of school bus drivers the company employs, but said there are a “lot of good candidates out there.”