HARRISBURG, Pa. — Amid budget challenges facing the state’s school districts, the Pennsylvania School Bus Association (PSBA) highlighted statistics that the association said underscore the importance of maintaining school buses as a viable form of student transportation.
In recent months, Gov. Tom Corbett released the state’s proposed education budget, which includes a provision to provide school bus transportation funding with a new student achievement block grant. The block grant would replace the current reimbursement funding formula that the Department of Education uses.
PSBA said that the funding reimbursement formula provides numerous benefits to school districts, including a fair calculation to account for each pupil eligible to ride a school bus, a cost escalator to compensate for rising transportation costs for fuel and equipment, and the ability to replace and maintain bus equipment.
The association went on to say that without the funding formula in place, many school districts may defer maintenance and acquisition of new buses which, among other ramifications, puts student safety at greater risk.
“Eliminating the existing transportation formula for schools and putting funds into a block grant will jeopardize pupil safety, result in the loss of local jobs and small businesses, and negatively impact the environment,” said Selina Pittenger, executive director of PSBA. “In response to the block grant proposal, some school districts have already discussed substantial reduction of bus routes, ending busing for high school students, and even the outright elimination of all school buses in the event that this proposal is approved.”
Approximately 85% of the state’s 500 school districts contract with private school bus companies. For those school districts that do not cut or eliminate busing, PSBA said that the preliminary state budget proposal would see transportation funding levels below the cost of inflation, which would make many of the small bus companies unsustainable.
Therefore, PSBA feels that the existing transportation funding formula should be retained to help maintain student safety, control property taxes, and protect local jobs and businesses.
The association drew on data from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) and the Pennsylvania Bureau of Highway Safety and Traffic Engineering about the state’s school bus safety record to support its position on the funding issue.
According to data compiled by PennDOT and the Pennsylvania Bureau of Highway Safety and Traffic Engineering, there has not been a single fatality of a student passenger in a school bus crash in Pennsylvania since 1993, despite the fact that school buses transport more than 1.5 million Pennsylvania students on a daily basis.
The PSBA also cited statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on the important role that school buses play in student safety throughout the country.
“These statistics reflect the fact that school buses are designed to keep children safe with flashing lights, specially trained drivers, bright colors, stop signs, reinforced sides and size and height standards,” Pittenger said. “According to the federal government, teen drivers account for 58% of all student fatalities during normal school travel hours and adult drivers account for another 23%. School buses account for just 1%.”
Pittenger also noted that school bus drivers in Pennsylvania go through extensive driver and safety training, and they are also required to undergo regular recertification training, four different background checks, pre-employment drug testing, as well as random drug and alcohol testing.