|Latest Head Start Provisions Cut Funding, Offer Possible Transit Solutions|
|Written by Stephane Babcock|
|Wednesday, 01 August 2007 00:00|
Head Start programs across the country must now seek other options when trying to meet their annual budgetary requirements, and one of those may be in the form of transit buses, according to a recent program instruction sent out on June 26 by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF).
Public Law 110-28, signed by President Bush in May, states that students may now only be transported in vehicles that meet all of the specifications of a school bus or an allowable alternate vehicle except those “relating to Federal seat spacing requirements, and Federal supporting seating requirements related to compartmentalization,” stated the ACF announcement.
“We’re very specific about what vehicles are eligible for Head Start transportation,” said Channel Wilkens, director of the Office of Head Start (OHS).
Change to Non-Federal Share Allowances
“In the case of migrant programs with a large percentage of parents who both work, it is harder to get parents to volunteer in the classroom,” said Nancy Netherland of the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Technical Assistance Center Academy for Educational Development.
Netherland’s organization is one of a number around the country contracted by regional Head Start offices to aide local programs with fiscal management, assessment of children, health services, facility improvement and, in this case, with supplementing their non-federal share.
“They have to look for other sources of non-federal share, ones they haven’t looked at,” said Netherland. “Groups sometimes give them building space at either a reduced cost or for no cost. A dentist who does pro-bono work with a migrant program two times a month (a required service of the Head Start program) would be part of the non-federal share. If the cost of the donated goods or services would have to be paid for anyway, it can be part of the non-federal share.”
“There are hundreds of alternatives,” said Wilkens, who mentioned that the OHS will still grant waivers on a case-by-case basis. “Now that it’s official, we have to be reasonable about programs making up the rest of their non-federal share. Down the road, we will continue to help programs in any way we can to supplement the non-federal share.”
But, this redefinition of the non-federal share is only one part of Public Law 110-28 that raises more questions.
“The non-federal share part of the program instruction wasn’t as surprising as the reference to a third type of vehicle. What that animal is going to look like isn’t quite sure,” said Netherland.
Until recently, an allowable alternate vehicle was defined as one that meets all federal school bus crashworthiness standards but does not meet regulations or standards relating to flashing red lights, the school bus yellow paint job, and stop arms. This has been changed to include “a vehicle that meets all of the specifications of an allowable alternate vehicle except those ‘relating to Federal seat spacing requirements, and Federal supporting seating requirements related to compartmentalization’ to be used for Head Start transportation.”
FTA Studies Transit Solution
According to John Bell, the FTA general engineer overseeing the study, there are two parts to the research. The first report, which has been drafted but is not yet available to the public, certifies the use of a school bus–defined vehicle for the dual use of transporting the general public as well as Head Start children. The second phase is a little more problematic.
“We are looking for transit vehicles to have a comparable level of safety; we are not looking to impose school bus safety standards onto transit buses. I am waiting for the consultants to come back to me with what areas they feel need to be improved,“ said Bell, who did not elaborate on the phrase “comparable level of safety.”
The seeds of this study were planted in the pages of the General Accountability Office’s 2006 report to Congress, “Head Start: Progress and Challenges in Implementing Transportation Regulations.” On page seven, the authors state: “Furthermore, some transit agencies ... have adapted transit buses to incorporate standards that they believe sufficiently protect preschool age children ... NHTSA, FTA, and Head Start have not determined the safety features needed for transit buses to sufficiently protect these children.”
Aside from the federal guidelines pertaining to rollover protection (FMVSS 220) and joint strength (FMVSS 221) that are only met by school buses, some members of the Head Start community are asking additional questions.
“There would have to be a bus monitor system in place,” said Sarah Greene, president and CEO of the National Head Start Association, referring to 45 CFR 1310.12 which mandates the presence of a bus monitor while transporting Head Start students.The prospect of adding a monitor does not sit well with the transit interests.
“The transit system is not adding any child development personnel, nor is the cost of this person built into any fares, rates or contract structures. While the Head Start programs may chafe about the burden, they can agree that it would be unfair for the transit system to have to add bus monitor personnel at its expense,” said Chris Zeilinger, assistant director of governmental affairs and training at the Community Transportation Association of America.
|Last Updated on Monday, 21 December 2009 16:52|