Bipartisan effort to restore school bus funding

Bipartisan effort to restore school bus funding

(Calif.) School districts could see significant increases in funding for transportation costs if either of two separate Senate proposals introduced this week ends up as law.

Because the funding distribution is so uneven, critics say, children – depending upon where they live – are denied equal access to their schools, especially in lean budget times.

“All students, including those from rural communities, should have the same access to their school as students who live in other parts of the state,” said state Republican Sen. Andy Vidak, author of a bill to fully reimburse school districts for home-to-school transportation.

School transportation inequities were highlighted during California’s recent “trigger cut” years – when district budgets took major hits linked to the national economic recession.

The squeeze was so tight, some districts were forced to cut bus service – typically in the state’ most rural areas, where distances drive up costs and fewer public transportation options exist. Although service disruption was mostly short-lived, the issue was alive in the Legislature.

The second bill, by Sen. Norma Torres (D-Pomona), would increase the rate at which school districts are reimbursed for approved transportation costs. Under SB 1137, districts receiving less than a 50 percent reimbursement of state-approved costs would, during a phase in period, be bumped up to a 50 percent reimbursement rate, according to an announcement from Torres’ office. It would also provide a cost-of-living adjustment for transportation funding for all school districts.

“Making sure children get to and from school safely needs to be a high priority,” said Torres. “This proposal would ensure many school districts get a fairer share of funding.”

The current statewide district reimbursement rate for home-to-school transportation, according to Torres, is 38 percent.

The funding distribution is so uneven, she said in a statement, that some school districts see less than 10 percent reimbursement, while others receive over 80 percent of their approved costs. Estimates, according to the Senator, are that approximately $800 million annually must be taken from school district general fund revenues to fund home-to-school transportation budget deficits.

Vidak, a Hanford resident who represents the expansive counties of Kings, Kern, Fresno and Tulare, says his SB 1166 would ease the financial hardship many districts still face when it comes to providing home-to-school transportation for students, since the state covers less than 50 percent of the cost in many cases. 

The most recent data available from the California Department of Education show school districts spent over $1.2 billion transporting students. In the 2012-2013 budget, school districts received less than $492 million in funding from the state to pay these costs, resulting in a funding deficit of $800 million.

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