CEA has in the past highlighted the problem volatile fuel prices pose to people on fixed incomes, but what about those on declining incomes?

What about schools?

With cash-strapped schools around the country being forced to eliminate physical education and arts programs and cut down to the bone in core academic fields, it was only a matter of time until they turned the knife on their transportation budgets. This Michigan school is one of many around the country that is cutting back school bus service to save money. Under the new system in the Michigan town of Portage, children as young as five who do not have parents available to drive them to school and/or pick them up at the end of the day, will have to walk up to a mile to and from school. School bus transportation, in fact, is at its lowest level in more than a decade, largely because more and more school districts are looking to save money on fuel.

Now, it’s easy to dismiss this matter of school bus transportation as one of the lesser problems faced by schools which are also struggling to pay teachers decent salaries and stock basic supplies. There’s probably even a joke to be made about students getting their exercise on the way to school, now that there may no longer be physical education in school. And wasn’t trudging to school five miles in the snow at one time considered a right of passage in this country?

In all seriousness, this growing lack of transportation to school, at a time of many two-income households where neither parent is available to drive, poses a real problem for many families.

More to the point, the costs of fueling school buses is often just the tip of the iceberg for school districts that also, of course, have to heat their buildings all winter long. This 2008 story about the double-digit increases in heating costs many schools faced pointed out that budgets were so tight that 30% of schools around the country were eliminating or modifying teaching positions. And that was last year, before the worst of the recession hit.

At a time of such drastic cuts in education budgets, you have to wonder how high and unpredictable fuel prices are making a tough situation even worse.