Wednesday, May 15, 2013

School Transportation

The transportation of students to and from school is an important component of the educational system and their operation within a climate of tighter budgets and less spending for K-12 by state legislatures, has created an atmosphere of uncertainty on the funding of this necessary expenditure.  Not only do state governments affect the delivery of school transportation, but school districts, which implement and manage the transportation system, can, and have, shifted monies that are supposed to go for transportation into other areas of the educational system in an effort to sustain other educational pursuits that are being cut or underfunded.  Add to this a layer of disparity in benefits received by the various school districts based on the funding formula and the question of who’s responsibility it is for the transportation of students that are enrolled in charter schools, one begins to notice the challenges that await for those involved in deciding which route the big yellow school bus should take. 

 The state of Minnesota requires, based on its constitution and implemented into state statue, school districts to provide transportation to and from school for all secondary school students who live two miles or more from schools and one mile or more for elementary school students.  School Boards are also required to provide equal transportation for non-public school children, including those enrolled in charter schools.

 Other states do not have the same obligation in the transportation of students to and from school and that is reflected in the percentage of students bussed, the amount of total expenditures, and the total cost per pupil.

 The funding of Minnesota’s school transportation is complex but in essence it is now awarded through the general education revenue program, a block grant, and is determined by a flat per pupil amount plus a sparsity component that is supposed to address the different size of service areas and give extra benefits to those districts that must bus students from farther locales.  The results of this funding mechanism has led to great disparities in benefits received as urban school districts receive a surplus of revenue which can be used for other general education operations, while, smaller and rural school districts operate at a deficit and have to cut from their general education programs to finance their transportation expenditures.

Policy recommendations have included changing the mandate that school districts have to provide transportation services for all students in need but due to the importance that transportation has on school opportunities and outcomes, it is my belief that school transportation should be awarded through a categorical grant, making it more difficult to use excess revenues for other areas of the educational system, and use a measure that equates to the number of students who rely on transportation and not the number of students in the school district boundary, to determine the sparsity component, which is used to factor the different types of service areas and their costs associated with them.

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