The Youth Environmental Justice Alliance (YEJA) is reporting that two months into the school year, students at David Douglas still have not received free transit passes, or even applications to receive passes. And there’s no plan in place to do so. YEJA won funding from the City of Portland earlier this year to support the YouthPass program expansion to David Douglas High School, yet the school hasn’t seized the opportunity. YEJA was named in the City resolution that brought YouthPass to East Portland. Our youth must be centered in decision-making about this program. Administrators report a “lack of capacity” to implement YouthPass.
“We have to do this quickly,” says David Douglas student Say Wah Pah, who is a member and organizer with YEJA. “We’ve been wasting so much time already. So many students were expecting this since last year, and more and more students know about it now and they are waiting for it.”
Youth transit access is a primary method of improving school attendance and graduation rates. David Douglas is a highly diverse school, with many low-income students. Given Oregon’s abysmal graduation rates among communities of color, we expected this program to be implemented in some form, so that students and educators can spend more of their time together.
“It’s important for students to have YouthPass,” Say Wah says. “I can never make it to my bus stop on time. The school bus only comes once, and we take it every single day. I’ve missed the bus and just stayed home because there’s no other way to get there.” Say Wah adds that YouthPasses would enable more students to get to jobs, or to participate in afterschool activities. “If I’m in a rush it can destroy the whole project I’m working on.”
YouthPass to the Future was the campaign that brought the YouthPass expansion to East Portland. Youth Environmental Justice Alliance members met with school administrators, city and county decision-makers, and transit authorities. They put the public pressure on and kept it on, and convinced the City of Portland to stop inequitably funding student transportation access. And now David Douglas High School has access to more than $300,000 to supply youth transit passes – and it isn’t being used.
It’s vitally important in this first year of the expanded YouthPass that the program moves forward. A lack of progress two months into the school year is a failure of policy that must be addressed immediately. Otherwise, youth are worried that their successful campaign was for nothing. YEJA’s organizing moved hundreds of thousands of dollars to the most diverse, and chronically-underserved, schools in the state. If it goes unused, it may go away in coming budget cycles, a shameful and negligent outcome that our youth will not stand for.
Please do not call the school and complain – we deeply respect that schools are underfunded and overburdened, and we are not asking for public response at this time. Stay tuned as YEJA’s members prepare to respond to this #OregonHorrorStory the way we know how: grassroots organizing to bring impacted youth together and demand community-led solutions.