Safe Routes to School in Underserved Communities in Missouri

The Missouri Safe Routes to School Network has been working for almost two years to bring Safe Routes to School programs and funding to low income and minority communities in Missouri.

This page summarizes how we found out that low income and minority communities were receiving less than their fair share of Safe Routes to School funding in Missouri, how the Network partners worked together to find solutions and address the problem, and how the Network--working together with key Network partner MoDOT--was able to make significant improvements in bringing Safe Routes to School funding to low income and minority communities in Missouri in just one year.

Why the Safe Routes to School Program is important to underserved communities

The Safe Routes to School program is designed to make communities around schools safer and more inviting for bicycling and walking and to encourage more children to bicycle and walk to school on a regular basis.

Bicycling and walking on a regular basis improves student health, reduces childhood obesity, improve concentration and behavior at school, gives students daily time in the outdoors and with nature, and improves the quality of our neighborhoods and communities.

Students from underserved communities--those with higher than average proportions of low income and minority students--need these benefits. Fitness in students from underserved communities is typically lower than average, and childhood obesity higher.

For that reason, it is important to bring Safe Routes to School programs, and a fair share of the Safe Routes to School funding, to underserved communities.

Researching SRTS and underserved communities in Missouri

Over the past year and a half, the Missouri Safe Routes to School Network has investigated Safe Routes to School in underserved communities in Missouri.

Where is the funding going, where are the programs going, and what can we do to improve the situation?

We are summarizing that research in a presentation at the Safe Routes to School National Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota on August 17th, 2011.

This page gives a brief summary of the research, the findings, and the presentation.

Presentation materials


Low income and minority populations are very different

If low income and minority schools were the same, we would expect the two graphs above to look the same (or close to it), and the graph below to look like a straight line (or close to it)--but they don't, at all. 

In fact the correlation between low income populations and minority populations is moderate to weak.  We need to consider poverty and minority population as separate factors, with different causes, and different solutions.  Sometimes they occur together (notice the cluster of dots near the upper right corner of the graph)--but by no means all the time:

In Missouri, Minority and low income schools are located in very different places. Low income schools occur throughout the state--with almost the same distribution as the population as a whole.  High minority schools, by contrast, are concentrated in the large cities and in a few other places:

Where Missouri's Safe Routes to School Funding is going

Missouri's Safe Routes to School funding is doing an excellent job in reaching rural communities and small towns that desparately need this funding, but so far has not reached the large cities, where many underserved schools (particularly those high in minority population) are located.  The graph below left shows what awards would look like if they were distributed in proportion to Missouri's population--on the right are the locations of actual SRTS awards, 2007-2011:

As you can see from the graph below, Missouri's minority population is very highly concentrated in the large cities.  So if SRTS programs are to reach this population, the funding must reach into our cities:

The graph below shows whether each urban classification--from City: Large to Rural--is getting its fair share of the Safe Routes to School funding. In the graphs, the 100% line shows "fair share" of funding--so you can see that Medium Cities, Towns, and Rural areas are getting more than their fair share of funding, while Large Cities, Small Cities, and Suburbs get less than their fair share:

What we did--and how it made a huge difference

Now for the (very!) good news.  The Missouri Safe Routes to School Network did initial research on this subject in 2010.  Once we realized there was a problem with underserved communities receiving less than their fair share of the funding, we developed a plan to address the situation.  The Network worked with the MoDOT SRTS Coordinator, who is a member of the Network.  MoDOT worked to encourage more applications from previously underserved communities and the Network worked to promote the 2011 SRTS funding round to underserved communities around the state.

We reached out via email, by asking our Network members to make personal contacts.  We held a teleconference, hosted by the SRTS Coordinator with interested community members and schools around the state.  The teleconference explained the SRTS program and explained how to apply for MoDOT's SRTS funding.

These rather simple interventions had a fairly dramatic and positive result.  As you can see from the graphs below, the amount of funding going to both low income and minority schools went up quite a lot in 2011 compared to previous years. 

The blue bars on the graphs show how much funding each group received, compared with its "fair share" (the amount that group would received if funding were fairly distributed by population).  100% means that group exactly received its fair share of the funding.

Bars showing more than 100% indicate groups receiving more than their fair share of the SRTS funding, while those below 100% received less than their fair share.



Kudos must go to MoDOT's SRTS program for making a very large improvement in this area in only one year, and with minimal resources.

For the future: Great improvement was seen in the effort to reach low income schools.  However, the most poverty-stricken schools (greater than 75% free and reduced lunch) are still somewhat underserved.

An even greater problem is schools with a high minority population. Although great improvement was made in reaching schools with higher than average minority population, they are still very much underserved.  Even in 2011 these schools received less than 50% of their fair share of funding--and 2011 was as great improvement over previous years, when high-minority schools received less than 20% of their fair share of funding..

In graphical format:

Recommendations: What we can do

Our simple interventions worked—so do more of the same:

  • Provide SRTS grant application workshops & assistance to underserved areas
  • Outreach/application training via teleconference
  • Mentor: Pick a school, any school
  • We can use the E's to encourage that they apply
  • Educate community leaders and elected officials about the SRTS program and about the disparity
    • Show community leaders the graphs and the disparity; encourage them to help us overcome it
  • Show success stories from other states
  • Encourage districts to hire someone for SRTS urban outreach
  • MoDOTshould spend a small % of SRTS funds supporting this type of work in underserved areas

Recommendations to the DOT's SRTS program:

  • Analyze data on poor & minority schools; Share with SRTS scoring committee and FHWA
    • After each round of funding
  • Consider making funding quotas, ie:
    • 15% of funds for schools with 75% or greater free/reduced lunch
    • 40% of funds for schools with greater than average minority population
    • This will make sure that these schools get their fair share of funding--but just as important, encourage applications from schools meeting the criteria
  • Analyze funding and fairness by population--not geography

What California did:

  • Create or adapt and publicize resources and website content addressing the needs low-income communities and schools to improve participation in the SR2S and SRTS programs.
  • Conduct a outreach campaign to ensure that low-income communities are aware of Safe Routes to School opportunities and available technical assistance .
  • Provide technical assistance to currently-funded projects on the federal aid process to increase the number of low-income communities that are able to successfully complete projects and be competitive for future funding.
  • Conduct a needs assessment in low-income communities to identify barriers to applying for and successfully completing SR2S and SRTS projects and utilizes this information to provide targeted technical assistance to low-income schools and communities.
  • Conduct a survey to determine what strategies are being employed at the local and District levels to increase participation of low-income communities


Thanks to the funders of the Missouri SRTS Network:

  • Safe Routes to School National Partnership
  • The Missouri Foundation for Health
  • The Incarnate Word Foundation, St. Louis
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services? Region VII Office of Minority Health.
  • Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Kansas City
  • Daughters of Charity Foundation of St. Louis
  • Lutheran Foundation of St. Louis

Special thanks goes to the members of the Missouri SRTS Network's Underserved Communities Action Team, which has spent many hours working to gather, analyze, and understand this data--and then to address the issues the analysis uncovered.

Brent Hugh
Eric Bunch
Sarah Shipley
Missouri SRTS Network Organizers
Missouri Bicycle & Pedestrian Federation 


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