A state budget amendment provides $3 million to pay the extra costs associated with buying buses equipped with lap-shoulder seat belts. File photo courtesy Elk Grove (Calif.) Unified School District

A state budget amendment provides $3 million to pay the extra costs associated with buying buses equipped with lap-shoulder seat belts. File photo courtesy Elk Grove (Calif.) Unified School District

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee has made funding available to help school transportation providers pay for the additional costs of seat belts on buses.  

Gov. Bill Haslam proposed $30 million to improve school safety statewide in an amendment in the fiscal year 2018-19 budget in March, according to a press release from the governor’s office. The funding includes $3 million in nonrecurring funds for grants to school districts to address the extra costs associated with purchasing buses equipped with lap-shoulder seat belts.

The School Bus Seat Restraint Grant Program will be overseen by the Tennessee Department of Education’s student transportation office. The program will reimburse a school district or school bus contractor that purchases approved seat restraints.

As of the June 29 application deadline, 20 school districts and three charter schools applied for funding from the program, said Larry Riggsbee, executive director for the Tennessee Association of Pupil Transportation.

In March, Gov. Haslam also appointed a school safety working group to review school safety in Tennessee and provide recommendations to enhance student safety. The group was charged with submitting options for consideration that will serve as a basis for state action and approved school safety measures, according to the governor’s office.

“Our children deserve to learn in a safe and secure environment and I’ve asked the working group to make specific recommendations on school safety measures,” Haslam said. “These additional school safety funds, which include doubling the current amount of recurring funding we have through our school safety grants, will provide our schools with additional resources to meet their specific needs.”

The seat belt funding is one of a handful of responses to the deadly Chattanooga crash in 2016, which killed six students and injured more than 30 passengers. The state also passed a law in 2017 requiring school bus drivers to be at least 25 years old (Johnthony Walker, the driver in the Chattanooga crash, was 24 at the time), and requiring standards for driver and transportation manager training.

A story that includes more insights on the seat belt grant program and its potential impact will appear in SBF’s September issue.

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