The Washington State Legislature passed an operating budget in June that provides substantially more funding for student transportation over the coming biennium.
Allan Jones, the state director of pupil transportation at the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, said the state legislature committed to providing an additional $42.8 million for the 2013-14 school year, or approximately 40 percent of the existing statewide amount that was underfunded. In the 2014-15 school year, an additional $65.4 million is provided to fully fund the new allocation system. The total appropriation for student transportation operations will then be approximately $377 million.
A new funding system for school transportation operations was implemented beginning with the 2011-12 school year, Jones explained.
"The new system was an important step in the legislative commitment to meet the state constitutional requirement to fully fund basic education, which includes transportation," he added.
While the new funding system was implemented, the $110 million required to fully fund the system was not appropriated, Jones added. A transition process was put in place with an additional $4.2 million provided in the 2011-12 school year and $2.8 million in the 2012-13 school year. Total funding for student transportation operations in 2012-13 was $265.2 million with expenditures of approximately $405 million.
Jones explained that this transition allowed the phase-in of the additional funding, with the new system establishing the "full-funding level."
"(A) district's underfunding was determined based on their existing funding level and the new fully funded level," he told STN. "All the additional funding was distributed based on the amount of underfunding ... so the districts that were already fully funded don't get any of the additional $42.8 million going out this coming year, for instance."
A big piece of the transition period included a "hold-harmless" for the small districts that had been funded in excess of their expenditures with the old system, but not under the new system. Jones said the districts had their funding limited to prior year expenditures plus indirects at the federal restricted rate, but many districts stand to receive less than that once the system is fully in place.
"However, many of them have already adjusted routes and their accounting process to reduce their costs," Jones continued. "Some districts were still charging field trip costs to transportation instead of the programs, for instance. And the old system rewarded inefficiency, so we had one district using 10 buses to transport 110 kids, for instance. Rural area but still not routed the most efficient way. The challenge there will be to get the community to accept the lower service level after decades of short bus rides.
"Of course we had a bunch of training and process development at the beginning of that time ... and some continued adjusting of the system."
During the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years, funding provided for capital costs (purchasing school bus) will be approximately $50 million per year for district-owned fleets and $7 million per year for school districts that contract services.