OLYMPIA, Wash. — The state of Washington is seeking a more accurate method of reimbursing school districts for the cost of pupil transportation after a report issued last November by legislative auditors estimated that actual expenditures for the 2004-05 school year exceeded state funding by as much as $114 million.
To that end, the Washington State Office of Financial Management issued a request for proposals (RFP) from firms interested in developing options for a new K-12 student transportation funding methodology. The chosen firm would be expected to develop a final report by Nov. 15, 2008, for consideration by the governor and state Legislature.
The RFP asks for the development of two options and a prediction of their impact on each school district compared to the current funding system. The goal of the funding methodologies would be to create a system that leads to a more accurate allocation of funds and also builds incentives for the efficient use of resources.
Washington’s current funding model was developed in the early 1980s and has not significantly changed over the years. Its goal is to fund the transportation of eligible students to and from school at 100 percent. Districts have difficulty establishing an accurate accounting of this cost, however, because there is no systematic method to account separately for to-and-from-school transportation. “The tools that exist for doing so are incomplete and unaudited,” the report said. It also noted that accounting of certain costs, such as bus aides, utilities and insurance, are not consistent among districts.
The audit of the 2004-05 school year was performed by the state’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee. It suggested that 187 school districts received less state funding than their expected costs, while 76 programs received more state funding than their expected costs. It found “significant structural and implementation problems” with the current funding method.
Adding to the problem, the report said, is the fact that funding is based on radius miles rather than actual road miles driven and that distance weighting factors used to determine funding levels do not appear to reflect actual road miles or actual costs incurred.
Allan Jones, state pupil transportation director in Washington, said the state is changing its accounting practices in advance of the 2008 report. “School districts are required to start breaking out the costs for everything that doesn’t qualify for state funding, so the year-end fiscal report will clearly indicate the amount of under-funding each district experiences,” he said. “That’s good, in that legally the state Legislature is responsible for all those costs. Changing the accounting process is rather painful, however.”