The Seattle School Board voted Wednesday to expand its ORCA card program to include low-income students who live 1-2 miles from their schools.
After lobbying for months, more low-income Seattle students will receive free transit passes as early as this week, after a Seattle School Board vote to expand the district’s ORCA card program.
Board members voted Wednesday to accept a $510,018 grant from the city to provide the cards to high-school and middle-school students who live 1 to 2 miles from their schools and qualify for free or reduced lunch. About 2,500 additional students are eligible for the new passes.
The motion passed unanimously. The vote was originally scheduled for Jan. 20 but postponed to Wednesday.
The agreement adds to the district’s current program, which offers ORCA cards to secondary students who live more than 2 miles from their assigned schools. About 8,500 use those passes, according to Seattle Public Schools.
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The vote culminates a months-long effort by students from Rainier Beach High, who have pushed for free transit passes since last summer. The students argued that the district’s transit policy had a disparate impact on low-income students, who might live within 2 miles of school but can’t afford bus fare or were concerned about walking through neighborhoods with high crime rates.
The group staged marches and town-hall meetings and met with City Council members, who voted to include city money for additional passes in the 2016 budget.
Students, staff members and transit advocates wanted all low-income students to be eligible for transit passes, no matter how far they live from school. The district, however, has said state reimbursement isn’t available for students who live within a mile of their school, so the program wouldn’t be sustainable after the grant period ends.
In response to the group’s concerns, officials from the school district, City Council, Mayor Ed Murray’s office and Seattle Department of Transportation met with the Rainier Beach group in January to discuss details of the program. The district will be developing a task force that includes students from Rainier Beach and other schools.
City Councilmember Mike O’Brien, who marched with the students last summer, said at Wednesday’s meeting he hopes the program will expand to include more students.
“Every young person should have access to transit, regardless of where they live, what their income levels are or where they go to school,” he said.