In the ongoing struggle to protect pupil transportation service from the chopping block, many school district officials and even state legislators are looking for ways to help school bus operations generate revenue.

In recent issues of SBF, we’ve discussed advertising on school buses, a topic that is contentious in the industry but has been cropping up in numerous state bills that seek to allow it.  

Another revenue-generating idea that has seen its fair share of controversy lately is school bus fees.

Banning bus fees
In March, a bill was signed into law in Indiana to prohibit districts from charging families for school transportation.

The legislation, which goes into effect July 1, specifies that if a school corporation provides transportation or contracts with an educational service center to provide it, no fee can be charged to parents or students for transportation to and from school.

Last year, Franklin Township Community School Corp. in Indianapolis outsourced its transportation to a not-for-profit agency, the Central Indiana Educational Service Center. Bus fees of $475 or $405 (for additional riders in a family) per year were put in place.

The move reportedly angered many parents, and state Attorney General Greg Zoeller issued an opinion in which he called the fees “unconstitutional.”

The bill that Gov. Mitch Daniels signed on March 19 bans fees for home-to-school transportation, but it allows fees to be charged for transportation to and from athletic, social and other school-sponsored functions.

Allowing bus fees
On the other side of the issue, legislation has been passed in Texas that allows school districts to charge for bus service if they don’t get transportation funds from the state.

The Carroll Independent School District (ISD) announced in April that it would implement a fee of $250 to ride the bus. A district statement said that trustees “reluctantly approved the fee in the face of a projected $5 million deficit for the 2012-2013 school year.”

The fee will apply to all students except those who receive special-education services. There will be a family cap of $500.

Previously, Carroll ISD only charged bus riders who live within two miles of school. In the 2011-12 school year, those riders paid $215 for the transportation, which helped generate about $235,000 for the district’s general operating fund.

But district officials said that further efforts were needed to help “close the gap between state funding shortfalls and daily operating expenses.”

The new $250 bus fee, which will take effect with the coming school year, is expected to help generate another $456,000 in revenue.

Carroll ISD spends about $1.8 million per year to transport about 2,764 students in all grade levels. The district does not receive any state funding for transportation.

In November, the district surveyed parents, employees and taxpayers about various cost-cutting and revenue-generating ideas. Officials said that the survey showed high support for implementing a bus rider fee rather than other suggested cuts.

In other words, no one is going to be excited about paying school transportation fees, but in some cases, they could be the best bet for saving yellow bus service.