AUSTIN — Although a law requiring lap-shoulder belts on all new school buses in the state went into effect yesterday, agency officials say the law cannot be enforced if funding for the purchase of seat belt-equipped buses is not released.
The law was passed in 2007 after a charter bus crash in which two Beaumont high school students were killed when their bus overturned.
According to the statute, "A school district is required to comply with Subsection (e) only to the extent that the Texas Education Agency pays or commits to pay the district for expenses incurred in complying with that subsection. The Texas Education Agency may make grants of appropriated money for the purpose of paying school districts under this subsection."
The Texas Education Agency (TEA) originally appropriated $10 million with which to reimburse school districts for the purchase of three-point seat belt-equipped buses. But after all state agencies were ordered to cut 5 percent of their budgets, that amount was reduced to $3.6 million.
TEA officials told the Associated Press they decided to make cuts from the funding as it was better to cut a program that had not started.
While some districts will not need to purchase new buses for a few years, others may begin vying for TEA funding as soon as it becomes available. TEA, which is awaiting notification from the Texas Legislative Budget Board to release the funds, is suspected by some to be obstructing the seat belt issue by making cuts to that program, the Dallas Morning News reports. Legislative Budget Board officials say that notification should come within a day or so.
Some districts, including Dallas County Schools, have gone ahead and purchased seat belt-equipped buses with their own funds. "We feel that the addition of three-point seatbelts is an extremely positive decision for Dallas County Schools," Transportation Director Rex Cole told SBF. "We are always looking for proactive ways to enhance our fleet. Our steadfast goal is to provide the safest transportation possible for the students and districts we serve. We believe that seat belts on buses are just one more step toward meeting that goal."
The district plans to have its entire fleet outfitted with three-point seat belts in six or seven years, Cole said.