The National School Transportation Association is 40 years old this year. We think that’s cause for celebration, and we’ll be rolling out the red carpet in Minneapolis, where it all began, on July 12.
Like all anniversaries, this one prompts me to reminisce about where we’ve been, recognize how far we’ve come and dream a little about where we’re headed. I guess you’d say that NSTA is now a “mature” organization; I prefer to think of it (like me) as in its prime.
From the beginning, NSTA has focused on government relations at the national level. That’s why our founding members joined together, knowing that what they could not influence individually, they could influence as a group.
A history of activism
Forty years ago, the controversy over seat belts in school buses was just beginning, with the 1964 UCLA tests on school bus seats. NSTA took a lot of heat for being the only organization actively opposing a requirement for lap belts in school buses on Capitol Hill. We were accused of putting profits before children’s lives, of opposing safety, of being obstructionists.
But we continued to fight for safety and common sense by promoting compartmentalization instead. We were successful in repelling repeated attempts to mandate lap belts — and after only thirty-some years, we were vindicated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s report to Congress denouncing lap belts in school buses.
Other early successes in Congress have had more tangible results for the industry. Can anyone add up the savings they’ve accrued from NSTA’s success in exempting private school bus companies from the federal excise tax in 1977? Or our success in blocking the administration’s attempt to take it away in 1985? Let’s see — at 24 cents a gallon times . . . it hurts my head just to think about it.
We may not get a really big win like the fuel tax exemption every year, but the small victories and, more important, the things we keep from happening, help our members and all contractors to maintain viable, safe and efficient businesses. And in the process, we ensure that kids have the safest possible ride to school.
In recent years, NSTA has expanded its scope, as the interests of the school bus industry and of our members have grown. While the association serves many functions, our members still tell us that our D.C. presence is the most important benefit we offer. We’ve assembled a first-rate professional team to represent us, and I’m blessed with a board of directors and committee members who are not only actively involved in setting policy, but who generously spend their own time and money to make personal visits to the capital. As a result, both our reputation and our influence have continued to grow. This year alone we’re actively working half a dozen issues in Congress and monitoring more than 30 issues in the federal agencies.
Public, private collaboration
What’s next? I’m excited that the school bus industry is entering a new age of cooperation. NSTA’s been going it alone for 40 years, and the rest of the industry has had no representation on Capitol Hill. We’re ready to change that. This spring for the first time, representatives of the other national associations, the National Association for Pupil Transportation and the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services joined NSTA for a series of meetings with members of Congress and top staffers. We were able to show that both the public and the private sectors are united in their concerns for children’s safety. This is a powerful message, and one I hope will be repeated as often as necessary through a yellow school bus coalition. It’s a win-win-win proposition: good for the private sector, good for the public sector, good for kids.