By the time you read this article, I will have concluded my term as NSTA President and turned over the reins to Dan Kobussen. Let me first say that NSTA remains in good hands with Dan at the helm, as he has been an integral part of the executive team for several years now, and a great sounding board for me as president.
It’s natural to become nostalgic as an important chapter in one’s life concludes, and this column was difficult to put together because some many thoughts and memories are converging in my mind. Very simply, I was honored and humbled by the opportunity to serve as NSTA president. When I took over from John Benish, Jr. , there were still many challenges to face, as the industry had not yet come out the “other side” of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In fact, COVID-19 spiked and we had to postpone our 2022 NSTA Midwinter Meeting in Key Largo due to a serious COVID outbreak that severely impacted our collective driver pools. Fortunately, we rebounded and hosted a Fall Conference that provided an opportunity to meet as a group in a place and at a time when we do not normally meet; this was a good reminder that with every challenge we face, there comes an opportunity.
There were a significant number of victories for NSTA over the past two years, and I do not take credit for those. In reality, we continue to have an outstanding advocacy team in place, with Becky Weber and Prime Policy, our team of Government Relations Committee Members – headed up by Bree Allen, our Board members, and Curt and Alec over on the NSTA staff side. Together we truly made difference when it came to advocating for passage of the Coronavirus Economic Relief for Transportation Services Act, or CERTS Act, as we have come to know it.
After the legislation was enacted in December 2021, NSTA Advocacy Team members met with the Department of Treasury to stand up the program. This small, but important step, allowed Treasury to construct a simplified grant process.
According to the CERTS website:
“The CERTS program assisted over 1,400 eligible transportation service providers, which used more than 81% of grant funds on payroll costs. Over 90% of grants were awarded to small businesses, many of whom were left out of the larger pandemic relief programs for other transportation sectors. Nearly a quarter of the grantees were women-owned businesses, one-third were minority-owned businesses, and 7% were veteran-owned businesses. As of May 16, 2022, all grant amounts under the CERTS program have been fully disbursed.”
Our advocacy work is not fully complete, as we continue to engage with our coalition partners to lobby for the CERTS Tax Exemption Act – with our legislative champions, Reps. Darin LaHood (IL-16) and Jimmy Panetta (CA-28), once again sponsoring a bill. This ask was part of our outreach at the 2023 NSTA Capitol Hill Bus-In this past April, and fingers crossed that we can get across the finish line this year.
I also want to mention the tremendous victory we saw in the fourth quarter of 2022, when FY23 Omnibus Appropriations Act contained two key provisions for private school bus operators looking to access Clean School Bus (CSB) monies through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). First, we were able to convince Congress that direct private operator (contractor) access to grant funding was imperative. Secondly, we also were able to attain flexibility on the five-year service requirement for buses obtained through CSB grants. It is worth noting that NSTA flew solo on these successful efforts, and everyone deserves credit for making these changes a reality.
I leave my role as president fully confident that Dan, Patrick Dean (President-Elect), and the organization can see our newest initiative – the “Jackie Walorski Enhancing Necessary Data on Illegal School Bus Passing Act,” through to completion. I will continue my work as an Advocacy Team member, much wiser for the lessons learned as NSTA President.
In conclusion, I continue to marvel at the tremendous student transportation system that’s been created for the benefit of students across North America and would like to thank everyone for their support and well wishes as my term comes to a conclusion. I hope to see you in my future travels.