As governors have put forth budget proposals for the coming years, pupil transportation has been getting the short end of the stick in some states.
Of course, there are myriad areas to cover in a state budget, even within the category of education. School buses are a small piece of the pie. But what’s interesting is that the pie — namely, public education funding — appears to have grown over the past couple of years.
According to a report from the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO), state funds for K-12 education rose 2.9% in fiscal year 2016 and 4.0% in fiscal 2017.
“As the national economy and state revenues continue to grow modestly, states have restored prior cuts made to K-12 education due to the most recent recession,” the NASBO report says.
Despite that upbeat outlook, pupil transportation has been a target of the budget axe in some states. Kentucky is one example.
As multiple media outlets reported in January, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin’s new budget proposal contained a big hit for school bus funding: a decrease of 61%, from about $226 million in fiscal 2018 to about $87 million in fiscal 2019. That proposed cut would leave school districts in the state to pick up much more of the tab for transportation.
For example, the superintendent of Barren County (Ky.) Schools, Bo Matthews, told the Glasgow Daily Times that the reduction would drop the district’s transportation funding rate from the state from $287 per pupil to about $111 per pupil.
State dollars have also been declining for pupil transportation in Missouri. As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in January, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens’ fiscal 2019 budget proposal provides $13 million less for school transportation than the state Legislature approved last year, according to House budget committee members.
The newspaper reported that state funding for busing has been on the decrease in recent years, but the governor’s current proposal for overall public education funding is an all-time high of $6.1 billion.
Meanwhile, some Missouri legislators have recognized the detrimental impact of cutting pupil transportation funding.
“You have to get the kids into school before you can educate them,” Rep. Justin Alferman said in a committee meeting, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. “It’s a cost you just can’t avoid.”
In South Carolina, there has been an ongoing struggle to fund replacement of the state’s aging school bus fleet. Last year, Gov. Henry McMaster vetoed $20.5 million in funding for hundreds of new buses. However — notably after a string of bus fires — South Carolina legislators pushed the funding through by overriding the governor’s veto.
In Pennsylvania last year, the state budget initially called for a $50 million cut to pupil transportation funding. As Blake Krapf tells us, the Pennsylvania School Bus Association worked with legislators on this urgent issue, and funding was restored at the prior year’s level. Still, Krapf says he sees more budget struggles ahead.
These funding troubles point to the importance of engaging in industry associations. Whether at the state or national level, pupil transportation leaders must work together to protect the industry’s interest — namely, keeping students on the safest mode of transportation, the yellow bus.
With so many pieces of the budget pie competing for dollars, someone needs to remind our elected officials why pupil transportation should be a priority.