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February 23, 2010  |   Comments (6)   |   Post a comment

How to Defend Fully Funding Special-Needs Transportation

Requirements for transporting non-disabled students vary widely by state and may be subject to far-reaching cuts, but requirements for disabled students are governed by IDEA. Still, opportunities exist to boost efficiency and reduce expenses.

by Dr. Linda Bluth

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IDEA regulations
Transportation is a related service under the IDEA regulations and includes travel to and from school and between schools; travel in and around school buildings; and specialized equipment, such as special or adapted buses, lifts and ramps.

It is the responsibility of a child's individualized education program team to determine if transportation is required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special-education and related services, and how the transportation services should be implemented. With this said, the challenge is how to be efficient and effective in meeting IDEA requirements for students with disabilities without diminishing service delivery for non-disabled students.

Unfortunately, too many school districts frequently look at their "regular transportation" costs in isolation from transporting students with disabilities. Looking at students with and without disabilities simultaneously may allow for potential cost savings previously unexplored. For example, integrating disabled students on buses with their non-disabled peers may result in additional bus occupancy and route reductions, thereby reducing expenses and saving money. When more students with disabilities join non-disabled students at community schools, these saving increase.

Cutting costs
The following common-sense options are frequently evaluated by school districts seeking to reduce transportation costs:

1. Purchasing equipment that can simultaneously serve disabled and non-disabled students;
2. Travel training to reduce the need for curb-to-curb pickup for students with disabilities that can walk safely to a community bus stop;
3. Evaluating Medicaid as a source of funding for the related-service transportation for students with disabilities;
4. Improved routing, especially computer-aided route design;
5. Staggered bell times;
6. And when there are no better options, reimbursing parents for their operating costs of transporting their students with disabilities (when this is, of course, mutually agreed upon by the parent and school district).

Finally, the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) wrote to the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) last year seeking information and guidance on the question of whether local education agencies may use monies from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act IDEA Part B grants to states to purchase yellow school buses to serve students with disabilities.

Specifically, we asked OSEP whether these buses may be used only to serve students with disabilities and special transportation needs or whether buses purchased with ARRA monies may be used to provide the opportunity for integration of disabled and non-disabled populations.

To date, NAPT has not received a response to this specific question. NAPT intends to follow up with OSEP, especially given the importance of accessing all available funding to serve students with disabilities and non-disabled peers alike. I will report back to you in a future article. 

Dr. Linda Bluth is president of NAPT and quality assurance specialist at the Maryland State Department of Education’s Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.

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I am the father of two disable boys one with brain damage the other with weak bone problems both can walk on there own but need help. Everyone needs to understand just because a child is not in a wheelchair does not mean they don't need the bus, check with the family to see how you can help is one way to see if they really need it. It sometime takes doing just that to understand...

roy dotson    |    Jan 17, 2014 07:46 AM

Is there any transportation for a student with a IEP that is on a hardship tranfer. The IEP does not state anything about certain transportation. Is there a phone number. Thank you in advance

Donna Whitlock    |    Aug 10, 2011 10:54 AM

Why does this transportation for "special needs kids" apply for my neighbors that are from a foreign country? They get door to door service every day for all grade levels (preschool/kindergarten that require for an adult to appear so the child is allowed to depart bus) then elementary, middle school and high school age kids. I am able to observe this special treatment from my home. The kids do not need assistance walking and apparently have different special needs. I'm not one to usually complain but as a tax payer I feel that this is an odd situation. I realize that the US is a country that welcomes all people to enjoy our freedoms. In closing, as I see it, our fore fathers set up freedoms for all and not free handouts for all. Thanks and God Bless America.

Joyce W    |    Sep 21, 2010 01:59 PM

Continuation of previous post. I guess there is a maximum word count. By asking the wrong question, we are led to the wrong answer. The first question leads us to realize that the educational system we have built is based on the presence of school bus service, and to remove that aspect of the educational system, we are limiting opportunities for the next generation of Americans. The second question leads us to think we should take transportation away from students with disabilities as well. Think of the savings! The goal of IDEA is an inclusive education system where disabled and non-disabled children go to school, learn, and RIDE THE BUS together. (As an aside, it is interesting that implementing an inclusive educational system also saves money, but only if educators, school boards and state education departments are willing to abandon antiquated funding formulas for the use of “special” education monies so that “regular” buses, schools and classrooms can be adapted for the needs of ALL children.) At one time, it was an American Value that all children would receive FAPE. Until we reclaim that value, we will continue to see services chipped away at, and then when only a few are receiving services, those will be taken away from them under the guise of “fairness.” We can worry about amassing personal wealth, or we can worry about the future of our country. As the Fram commercial reminds us, “You can pay me now, or you can pay me later.”

Ted Finlayson-Schueler    |    Feb 24, 2010 08:26 AM

It has always been a fact that the intention of IDEA for full inclusion of students with disabilities in every aspect of the life of their school has been violated by unnecessarily segregated transportation services. This segregation of children with disabilities on “special” buses now become more glaring as willingness to fund transportation for non-disabled children, once a given, now appears to be evaporating in our Tea Party-fueled tax-cutting political culture. When Congress guaranteed FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) in IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) to students with disabilities, it did so with the understanding that non-disabled students were already receiving one. The movement from neighborhood schools to large centralized schools that happened in the 20th Century was premised on the presence of school bus fleets to bring students to these larger schools. It was said that these centralized schools would give all students, even those in remote, rural areas, access to the latest educational opportunities. The idea of centralized school bus-serviced schools then fueled the post WW II race to the suburbs where two cars in the driveway and school bus service for the kids launched a particularly American lifestyle. It seems now that the values that drove us to want ALL children, i.e. not just our own, to have a better education, no longer exist in American Culture. As transportation services for non-disabled students evaporate, as parents lose jobs because of the need to walk or drive their children to and from school, as children have to give up the opportunity for extra-curricular activities because buses aren’t available, or children miss significant days of school or drop out, the next question we ask should be, “How can we do this to OUR kids?” Unfortunately, the next question that seems to be getting asked is, “How come those disabled kids are getting something my kid isn’t getting?” By asking the wrong question, we

Ted Finlayson-Schueler    |    Feb 24, 2010 08:23 AM

This article highlights one of the practices that is all too common in school districts: segregating bus routes for disabled and non-disabled children. If the bus is picking up a disabled child, why not the non-disabled sibling, who is attending the same school on the same schedule? Transportation officials have to become proactive in the placement of special classes and the placement of students in special classes. Our current "soured" economy might be just the catalyst that has been needed to ignite some school boards and superintendents to act in an unpopular but economically justifiable manner!

George Horne    |    Feb 23, 2010 05:43 PM

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