SACRAMENTO, Calif. — On Friday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that restores funding for home-to-school transportation for the 2011-12 fiscal year.
As SBF reported in December, $248 million for free school bus service in the state was slashed as part of mid-year budget cuts.
Senate Bill (SB) 81, which took effect immediately, replaces the $248 million cut with an across-the-board revenue limit reduction at all school districts in the state.
Mike Rea, government relations chairperson for the California Association of School Transportation Officials (CASTO), had been working with his colleagues in the association on this effort since the cut to home-to-school transportation was proposed last year. Therefore, Rea said that last week’s development was welcome news.
“This was outstanding news for school transportation in California,” he told SBF on Monday. “We are very grateful to all of the legislators who made this bill a priority. School transportation funding is reinstated for this school year, but an equivalent $248 million cut was made to school districts’ base funding — their ‘revenue limit’ for this year. This ‘fix’ provided for a more equitable solution to the cut that was necessary due to lower than estimated revenues in the state's budget.”
Brown’s approval of SB 81 also pleased some legislators. Assembly member Wesley Chesbro (D-North Coast) praised the governor for his swift action on the bill — it was presented to him on Feb. 2 — and thanked him for signing it.
“I am thrilled that the Legislature and governor were able to come together to restore the funding that gets California’s students to school,” Chesbro said. “Home-to-school transportation is an essential service in my district. This bill was signed just in time to save the jobs of many school bus drivers and ensure that there is no interruption in getting kids to school.”
While the passage of SB 81 means that funding for school bus service is restored for this fiscal year, Rea noted that the work is not over in terms of restoring funding for the long term.
“Our next concern is that Gov. Brown announced his budget proposal for the 2012-13 school year, and he proposed the complete elimination of school transportation funding,” he said. “The state's Department of Finance explained that the total cut was predicated on the ‘trigger’ eliminating the funding, and he was just carrying that forward. Frankly, the bill language for the trigger cut did not eliminate the funding moving into the future; it was only a cut for the rest of this year. With the reinstatement of the school transportation funding this year, the governor's argument is moot. We were hoping that he would announce the reinstatement of school transportation funding for next school year, but it appears we will have to wait until his May budget revision, known as the ‘May Revise.’”
Rea added that the pupil transportation community in the state still needs to lobby on behalf of the importance of school transportation.
“The importance of school transportation was clearly articulated in our fight to reinstate funding for this year,” he said. “Many legislators during the hearings expressed that they really want to find a long-term fix to school transportation funding. CASTO has been working on just this. We have bill language now, and we are looking for a legislator to author our bill.”