The National School Transportation Association doubled down on its request that Congress immediately require all states to continue funding school bus operations provided by private contractors to school districts or provide a $2.8 billion in emergency relief funds during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
NSTA Executive Director Curt Macysyn said on Monday that the recent impasses between Democrats and Republicans on a federal aid package prompted an additional plea to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. An original letter was sent on Thursday.
“We sincerely hope that legislators and policy-makers take this potential outcome seriously. Only by taking action now, can a crisis be averted,” Macysyn said.
Thursday’s letter outlined two plans. The first would entail “a directive edict or declaration” that a condition to receiving additional federal funds would be to maintain current funding of school bus contractors, while schools remain closed. A second proposal would appropriate the emergency funding so contractors can continue paying approximately 250,000 transportation employees, including school bus drivers, “to maintain student welfare through extraordinary sanitizing measures and maintain the integrity of their fleets and companies.”
“Taken together, these actions are critical, so student transportation can seamlessly continue after school has reopened,” Macysyn continued. “It is not in the nation’s interest to have nearly 40 percent of the nation’s capabilities to provide school bus service disappear due to this crisis.”
The request came amid a separate proposal by the American Bus Association and the United Motorcoach Association that seeks $10 billion on congressional grant funds and $5 billion in zero-percent interest rate loans to the commercial bus industry.
Macysyn wrote that private contractors are losing approximately $85 million each week, as a result of school closures. He explained that school bus contractors operate with fixed costs and overhead, which represents nearly two-thirds of their operating expenses. The companies also must shoulder equipment and vehicle financing costs of $90,000 or more, plus maintain and pay for insurance and maintenance costs for their facility.
He also pointed out that contractors calculate their costs and structure contract pricing based on the assumption of approximately 180 days of transportation over multiple school years. On top of these costs, contractors are utilizing their school buses to run meal service to students so they can still receive free or reduced breakfast and lunch through their schools, and in some places even dinner.
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The contractor companies operate about 200,000 of the nation’s 500,000 school buses.
As of Friday morning, Education Week reported that 45 states had closed at least 114,000 schools, affecting at least 52.6 million school students. Earlier in the week, Kansas became the first state to announce it ended the school year early because of the coronavirus.
On Monday, NSTA sent another letter to all 50 governors as well as U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos that asked for states to mandate continued payment to contractors. Macysyn told the congressional leaders that California, Illinois and Minnesota have already taken steps to ensure ongoing funding.
“[The Illinois State Board of Education] is seeking flexibility to allow for transportation costs related to food delivery, or other services and materials for students’ health and wellbeing, during the mandated statewide school closure to be claimable for reimbursement from the state through ISBE’s regular transportation reimbursement,” an Illinois State Board of Education spokeswoman told School Transportation News on Friday.