Did you know the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) offers an opportunity for school districts to purchase school buses for the benefit of students with disabilities and/or students who receive special-education services under Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, Part B)?
In September, NAPT members received a special report explaining what ARRA IDEA, Part B funds are, the steps necessary to determine the availability of funds, and an example of how one district coordinated these efforts. To find out how to take advantage of this opportunity, keep reading.
The ARRA provides a major increase in special-education funding, including $12.2 billion for IDEA (which includes $11.2 billion for Part B, $400 million for preschool funding, and $500 million for Part C).
Of interest to school transportation professionals are the ARRA funds for IDEA, Part B. The ARRA IDEA 611 and ARRA IDEA 619 funds are new, one-time federal fiscal year (FY) 2009 dollars that support allowable IDEA-related services or activities. (ARRA funds are in addition to the regular 2009 IDEA, Part B awards.) The Part B funds for FY 2009 and '10 were awarded as lump sums to the states, which allocate the funds to school districts.
The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) has said the time frame for these funds is Feb. 17, 2009, through Sept. 30, 2011. Check with your state education officials to determine the applicable date your district may start obligating ARRA funds. All ARRA funds must be expended by Sept. 30, 2011.
The ARRA funds are a one-time, special funding opportunity; they are not ongoing. Additionally, the DOE has stressed that states need to spend funds quickly to save and create jobs. Replacing a school bus is in line with both of these parameters - you do not create an ongoing funding commitment, and the purchase will stimulate the economy.
Steps to take
Start by going to your state department of education's Website. Many states have established Web pages and informational clearinghouses regarding education funds from the ARRA. Individuals within your state's DOE, including administrators from special education, finance and grants, are most likely the designated officials managing questions and making decisions regarding your state's appropriations.
Once you confirm that school bus purchases to benefit students with disabilities and students who receive special-education services are an approved use by the U.S. DOE for your state's share of IDEA, Part B funds, seek out your district's special-education officials and discuss putting together a grant application. This may be more complex for inter-locals/cooperatives that have one special-education department serving several districts. There may be an individual district need to consider or a bus purchase for the cooperative that could benefit more than one district.
Applying and record keeping
In applying, you will be expected to give a direct correlation between using the funds to buy a bus and the benefits students with disabilities or students who receive special-education services will obtain from that purchase.
Does your district have a growing special-needs student population and, accordingly, have more students requiring specialized transportation as part of their IEPs? Are you seeking to improve the ride for students with disabilities by reducing route times, providing climate control or replacing an older bus with one that has newer features permitting students in wheelchairs to ride with their non-disabled peers? These are just a few examples.
Another important principle that guides the distribution and use of ARRA funds is that all recipients must ensure transparency, reporting and accountability. Upon approval of funds, you will have to maintain meticulous records on the use of the bus and how and when the bus provides the benefit to students with disabilities as you described in your application. Accordingly, you will need to ensure that all of the required records are managed for this purchase with ARRA funds, as well as meet the reporting requirements. This may mean you will have to adjust your operation's record-keeping abilities and tools.
There is a real opportunity here for school transporters in states that have received approval to use ARRA IDEA, Part B funds for school bus purchases to benefit students with disabilities. It starts with finding out about the process your state and school district are using to award and spend these funds, and how you can have input.