AUSTIN, Texas — In a letter to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) on Sept. 2, the Texas Legislative Budget Board (LBB) issued its approval of the Texas Transportation Institute's (TTI) report on a program to reimburse school districts for the installation of seat belts on school buses. The notification also indicated approval of the release of the $10 million appropriation made by the Legislature for fiscal year 2011 for the program.
As SBF previously reported here, a law requiring seat belts on all new school buses in the state went into effect Sept. 1, but TEA had limited funds available to reimburse schools.
When all state agencies were ordered to make budget cuts, TEA cut funding to the School Bus Seat Belt program. The available funding amount was reduced from $10 million to just over $3 million, leading some to speculate that TEA was obstructing the seat belt measure. TEA officials said they selected the program for cuts because it hadn't started yet.
The TTI report made the following recommendations for prioritizing seat belt installation:
Priority 1: Equip vehicles that will have the highest safety benefit from the addition of lap-shoulder belts: small buses and motorcoaches.
Priority 2: Equip buses used in counties with the highest number of serious bus crashes for use on high-speed, two-lane routes and with the highest average pupil density on those routes.
Priority 3: Equip buses on high-speed, two-lane routes in other counties, in order of decreasing linear density.
The TTI report also included policy and operational recommendations:
• a district plan for addressing any dimished capacity so as not to force students into alternative (and less safe, regardless of seat belt availability) transportation
• a district training program for drivers and students on correct belt use and emergency procedures, and
• a written policy regarding belt use and an enforcement system
The report recommends prioritizing or providing incentives to encourage the use of human or electronic monitoring of seat belt use.
The LBB instructed TEA to follow minimum program requirements, including:
1. Expenditures of grant awards should be limited to the incremental cost of purchasing buses with seat belts versus those without;
2. Districts making bus purchases that fall within any of the three TTI priorities are eligible to apply for funding, and funding will be prioritized in order of the three risk-based categories indentified in the report (all eligible priority 1 applications would be funded first, followed by priority 2 applications, etc. until the available funding is allocated);
3. School districts must certify in the application that the buses for which funding is sought under priorities 2 or 3 travel routes identified as high risk under the parameters of the TTI report;
4. Applications including a plan for monitoring seat belt use should be prioritized in the funding allocation;
5. School district property wealth should be a factor in prioritizing applications for funding allocation (lower wealth being a higher priority), if additional prioritization is necessary;
6. At a minimum, applications must include proof of adequate capacity, plans for driver and student training, and written district policies regarding seat belt use and enforcement to be eligible for funding; and
7. The program should be evaluated by TEA or its designee.
To read the LBB letter approving the report and funding, click here.