Across the nation, school districts are reporting difficulty in meeting requests from school boards and superintendents to further reduce the cost of transporting students to and from school. The current economy has forced some school transportation service providers to implement drastic changes in service to achieve cost reductions.
Many transportation directors are frustrated because they feel there is nothing left to cut without jeopardizing safety. Recently, a director of transportation shared with me that he recommended eliminating yellow bus services for non-disabled students, rather than operating in an unsafe manner. He suggested only serving disabled students. His superintendent of schools recognized that this solution would be extremely unpopular and wisely made the decision to not make further cuts in the transportation budget.
Variety of requirements
Transportation requirements for non-disabled students vary notably from state to state. The spectrum goes from no requirement for school bus service for non-disabled students on one end to parent reimbursement for transporting children to and from school beyond specific mileage limits or boundaries at the other.
Eligibility criteria for non-disabled students are often based upon local law. States and local education agencies have different requirements for walking to and from school prior to meeting eligibility for school bus service, different viewpoints on the appropriate distance between bus stops, different guidelines regarding the length of school bus ride time, and completely different rules about transportation to extracurricular activities.
This past year, due to significant fiscal challenges that have caused deficits for many school districts, it has been all too common for school districts to increase walking distance, increase the distance and reduce the frequency of bus stops along a route, and reduce transportation availability to and from extracurricular activities.
Local directors of school transportation have had to reevaluate their operating budgets numerous times during the school year and maintain close scrutiny of what is essential and required by state law. Though school districts can be permitted to exceed state requirements for transportation, most, if not all, may not reduce mandated state requirements.
Different service for twins
I recently had a conversation with a parent of twins. One twin received special-education services and the related-service transportation. The other twin was served in regular education. The parent asked how her school district could justify increasing the walking distance for her non-disabled child in a high-traffic area when there was absolutely no change in services for her disabled child.
She was faced with the problem of having to drive her non-disabled child to school at the same time the school bus was arriving for her disabled child. Both children attended different schools with the same school start time. This parent was overwhelmingly frustrated and wanted an explanation of how school districts determine the differences in service delivery for non-disabled and disabled students.
I explained that the requirements for school bus service for non-disabled students and students with disabilities are very different. While differences exist between states for non-disabled student transportation, transportation requirements for students with disabilities are governed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and are far more standardized from state to state.