The Philadelphia School District has proposed cutting $38.5 million from its transportation budget by slashing both the yellow buses that bring younger students to elementary schools and subsidized SEPTA TransPasses for high schoolers.

By now, most people are familiar with the painful cuts proposed for Philadelphia schools as officials seek ways to close a $629 million budget shortfall - mass teacher layoffs, loss of full-day kindergarten and extracurricular programs, disappearing school nurses and music programs.

But this stop-the-buses idea should go no further than being a worst-case scenario that's being trotted out to gain public sympathy for the district's predicament. What good would it do to make cuts to keep schools open if you couldn't get the students there?

Consider the impact if the district stops providing transportation for most of the 96,000 students who receive the service now.

The district can raise that possibility because current law only obligates it to provide transportation for public-school students enrolled in special-education programs. That's 9,000 students.

By choice, the district also buses an additional 20,000 students who either attend parochial schools, live more than 1.5 miles from a public school, or otherwise would have to walk to school through a hazardous area.

Under a separate agreement, the district also transports about 23,000 charter-school students. District officials say it would take separate action by the School Reform Commission to stop busing charter students, but so far that hasn't been proposed.

Families who have resisted the temptation to ditch regular public schools are no doubt questioning the fairness of exempting the charters from the transportation cuts discussion. Is it the district's intent to push more families to charters as the only way to ensure a bus ride for their children?

Cutting TransPasses is also a poor way to reward those ambitious high school students who take advantage of the district's open enrollment policy to attend the better schools scattered throughout the city. Making up for the loss of that subsidy will put a financial burden on families.

The impact might be even worse on academic underachievers who are always mining for a reason to skip school. The loss of transportation services will subvert the district's anti-truancy program and could undermine district-wide desegregation efforts.

None of that should happen, especially given Mayor Nutter's new vow to make Philadelphia the "education city." District officials say restoring the transportation budget is second only to restoring full-day kindergarten on their priority list. OK, but even if the state doesn't come through, they shouldn't stop the buses.