But a rural-urban disparity exists, Boden notes. For example, the Des Moines Independent School District, Iowa’s largest, "spent $193 below the state median per pupil on transportation during the 2015-2016 school year," which comes to an additional $6 million. In rural Greene County Community School District, which is the state’s eighth largest in geographic size at 388 square miles, but only has 3.35 students per square mile, the average cost is $586 per pupil. That's $206 per student above the median, or $268,111 for the entire school year. (IPR graphic: Student population density in Iowa; click here for an interactive map.)
"The state’s funding formula is primarily to blame for this inequality," Boden reports. "Each district’s general fund budget receives a set amount per student from the state. For the 2016-2017 school year the sum was $6,591. In addition to transportation costs, a district’s general fund must also budget for salaries, text books, technology, and even capital improvements."
"But it's not all the state's fault," Boden notes. "School districts also have a responsibility to keep transportation costs low, and some do a better job than others... In part to keep transportation costs in check, Greene County is moving all K-12 classes to the city of Jefferson, which is the center of the district and the county seat. That means the intermediate school is closing. The fourth grade class will move to the elementary school, while fifth and sixth graders will become middle schoolers."