It's not so much that the new $10 billion Education Jobs Fund makes any money available to school district transportation departments as much as it promises fewer further cuts or reductions to support service budgets. At least that's the hope.
The Obama Administration sold the Ed Jobs Fund as a necessity to save some 160,000 education jobs nationwide that were teetering on the chopping block. But as only some states have a few weeks left to apply, with some states like Texas facing bigger obstacles and states like South Carolina apparently being shut out, Education Week wrote this week that there is growing concern that this latest stop-gap will go into state piggy banks to address forecasted shortfalls in coming fiscal years or that some states could try to hijack the money and use it elsewhere.
How these Ed Job Funds play out, and potentially benefit, school busing remains to be seen. If it eliminates or at least reduces the number of school bus cuts at school districts that are able to keep more money in classrooms, on some level it would have to be seen as a success.
When it comes to securing dedicated federal money for school transportation, the best bet so far is the Federal Highway Administration's Safe Routes to School Program. But we're talking school transportation here as biking and walking, not riding school buses, which have yet to see themselves included. The National Safe Routes to School Partnership added language written by NASPDTS last year to include school bus stops as an acceptable allocation for infrastructure funds into a recommendations list addressed to Congress ahead of the program's reauthorization, which has been delayed. But Congress ignored the item.
Still, as evidenced in a report on selecting safe bus stops that was released last week by NHTSA, there does seem to be a correlation between Safe Routes and school busing, and NHTSA itself is promoting that. We could expect to see more on this once NHTSA, under the direction of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, begins a national school bus public awareness campaign touting the benefits of school busing later this year.
Meanwhile, there's the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act under the EPA's National Clean Diesel Program, which is available to school bus operators for purchasing new vehicles; performing engine and tailpipe retrofits; repairing. re-programming or re-powering engines; and purchasing and implement alternative fuels. But school buses are just one of the eligible vehicles. They must compete with commercial buses; medium- and heavy-duty trucks; marine engines; locomotives; and an assortment of non-road vehicles used for construction, agriculture and mining.
And of course, there are a host of other federal programs out there from which transportation can benefit. There is IDEA, emergency management and Medicaid reimbursement funds that can be used to offset some transportation costs , just to name a few. In fact, the Ed Jobs Fund includes another $16 billion in Medicaid funding for states, which Education Week said could curb some additional education cuts as states continue to try and balance their budgets.