In early April, the National School Transportation Association was able to host its 2022 NSTA Capitol Hill Bus‐In. Normally, this event allows us to gather in Washington, DC in support of the NSTA Advocacy Team to meet with legislators, regulators, and policy‐makers who greatly impact student transportation.
The past two years have been anything but normal, and that required us to cancel our Bus‐In events for both 2020 and 2021. These cancellations did not mean that the association’s advocacy efforts shut down for the better part of two years. In fact, NSTA has been more active than ever during the pandemic, getting important initiatives through Congress, including the CARES Act, CERTS Act, and the STOP for School Buses Act.
We were able to gather in our nation’s capital this year and while we were there, the organization gave out four Bronze Bus – Legislative Champion Awards to Senators Gary Peters (MI) and Todd Young (IN), as well as House Members Julia Brownley (CA‐26) and Jackie Walorski (IN‐2). In addition, we hosted two speakers from important agency partners – Nikki McDavid, Chief of the Commercial Driver's License Division from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), and Kristin Rosenthal, Highway Safety Specialist from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Both speakers brought us up‐to‐date on the various regulatory initiatives affecting student transportation.
The Bus‐In also hosted a panel session “Transitioning to Electric School Buses – What you need to Know”. The panel included Kevin Matthews, head of electrification of First Student; Faye Swift, DERA grants and policy team leader for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Becky Weber, managing director of Prime Policy Group; and Kelly White, director of eMobility business development at IC Bus.
This panel covered the origins of the EPA’s Clean School Bus Program and its inclusion in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). The electrification of the school bus fleet will require coordination amongst many entities including the federal, state and local governments, transportation providers, electric utilities, charging and infrastructure providers, and battery manufacturers. Speakers covered their respective roles within this vast framework, and they outlined the opportunities and challenges ahead.
The pandemic provided an opportunity for NSTA to form closer bonds with our state association partners and these alliances continue today. Together we have worked on issues relating to pupil transportation funding, ensuring student transportation contractor payments during the pandemic, and the electrification of the school bus fleet mentioned earlier.
The school bus driver shortage presented additional opportunities for state and national coordination, and at Bus‐In, we assembled a presentation group called “Working with your State Legislatures – Coordination between National and State Associations.” The panel consisted of Wisconsin School Bus Association Executive Director Cherie Hime; Rich Kelly, Esq., President and Founder of RC Kelly Law Associates; and NSTA Executive Director Curt Macysyn, each of whom discussed the respective roles that state associations play in successful advocacy efforts.
One area currently demonstrating the critical nature of this coordination has been the pursuit of the “under the hood” testing requirement waiver – implemented in January 2022 by FMCSA. Even though NSTA was instrumental in garnering the waiver at the federal level, the edict requires each individual state to separately adopt it. Wisconsin was one of several states that adopted the waiver, and Cherie Hime explained how the local effort would not have even been possible without action by NSTA at the federal level.
Finally, NSTA Government Relations Chair Bree Allen hosted a lively discussion about association advocacy priorities that included capturing the voice of our members. Bree walked us through the current political landscape and sought feedback from members on how to best accomplish our goals.
I didn’t realize how much I had missed D.C. and our in‐person advocacy. As I traveled home after the event, I thought about the continued effort of many of our members, who pitched in during the height of the pandemic, and how their support brought us several crucial advocacy victories. While our work is not finished, I am encouraged by the energy and enthusiasm displayed in Washington. In my remarks at the conference, I emphasized that “we are stronger together,” and from my viewpoint, the 2022 NSTA Capitol Hill Bus‐In program gave us an opportunity to increase that strength and celebrate the success we have achieved by working together.