Friday, April 03, 2015

School bus transportation costs too steep in rural Midwest; districts dipping into education budgets

Transporting children to and from school in the rural Midwest—especially in remote locations, or in school districts that are spread out because of consolidation—is too expensive and is forcing districts to use funds from education budgets to pay for bus costs, Maya Rao reports for the Star Tribune.

Some rural superintendents "say that bringing children to school costs far more than state transportation aid and siphons money that could go to classroom instruction," Rao writes. "With some facing declining enrollment, it’s even tougher to cover the expense."

Bemidji Area Schools has nearly 80 school buses to cover 828 square miles to transport more than 5,000 students, Rao writes. Superintendent James Hess "said the district loses about 14 teachers a year and he can’t pay to keep them because he’s spending money on transportation. Teaching and textbooks are also getting short shrift, according to Hess." (Best Places map)

In some states, like Iowa, where schools receive a set amount per student, districts are struggling with decreasing enrollment, with 60 percent of the state's schools seeing a decline in enrollment, Rao writes. Jeff Corkery, superintendent in the western Dubuque district, said he has had to spend an extra $1 million over the past six years because of a lack of state funding for 45 bus routes that carry 3,200 students 4,5000 miles per day. Transportation costs $700 per pupil—twice the state average.

In Minnesota, where transportation is required for all elementary school students living at least one mile from school and all other students at least two miles away, Rep. John Persell (DFL-Bemidji) "introduced a bill this month that would funnel about $3 million to the hardest-hit districts in Minnesota to offset the gap in state transportation funding." Rural school superintendents are not pinning their hopes on the bill, considering they have been calling for similar action in recent years, with few results. (Read more)

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