Based on preliminary data from the U.S. Census Bureau, elementary and secondary school revenues and spending mostly increased during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, with a notable (and perhaps unsurprising) exception: pupil transportation.
While total spending rose to $586.4 billion (about 2.5 percent higher than $571.8 billion in 2019), transportation expenditures dropped 5.7 percent from $21.3 billion in 2019 to $20.1 billion.
“Because of the pandemic, the two areas that had 1-year declines (student transportation and food services) had slower growth in 10-year spending than other categories,” wrote Stephen Wheeler, a supervisory statistician in the Census Bureau’s economic reimbursable surveys division.
Of 36 areas reporting in these early numbers from the Census Bureau’s Annual Survey of School System Finances, however, five indicated that they spent more on pupil transportation in 2020 than in the previous year: Delaware, the District of Columbia, Minnesota, Washington, and Wyoming.
The survey’s final results won’t come until May 2022. But early numbers suggest that while revenue from state and local sources increased, school districts saw less funding from federal sources.
It remains to be seen, though, what the full implications of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) are for public school system funding after the next full fiscal year, the Census Bureau reports.
No matter the final outcome of the survey, the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) is warning against basing future spending on 2020's numbers.
"Transportation spending is an important component of any school district's budget," said NASDPTS President-Elect Pat Schofill. "Given the many different ways in which school districts handled the pandemic, it's difficult to quantify expectations around what we would have or should have expected. The most important takeaway, however, is that school districts should not look to reduce their transportation spending based on their 2020 numbers and should instead look to their 2019 numbers and some type of adjustments based on what they now now. Now is not the time to reduce transportation spending."