Gov. Pat Quinn signed the fiscal year 2012 state budget and in doing so cut $89 million from the reimbursement fund that is appropriate to school districts for providing student transportation services.
The total reimbursement each year is approximately $650 million. Cinda Menenghetti, the state director of student transportation at the Illinois State Board of Education, added that the General Assembly could still veto the governor’s budget this fall to keep the full transportation reimbursement alive. But in the meantime, school district plans for the upcoming school year are being affected.
Quinn said that the state would maintain current spending levels for school transportation in fiscal year 2011. But Menenghetti pointed out that the funds are designed to reimburse school districts for the previous school year. As it is, she said eligible school districts have not received any money since December for the 2009-2010 school year. The reimbursements are split into four annual payments, meaning that schools were still owed payments for March and June.
School districts had to file their 2011-2012 budgets to the Illinois State Board of Education in May. Reimbursement claims for the recently concluded school year were due in August.
Further complicating matters is that the state law requires student transportation service be provided by some school districts but not others. For the past 100 years, community units have been mandated to provide school busing. But new school districts that don’t meet the same definition, such as charter school districts and magnet school districts, are not required to provide busing. Still, Menenghetti said, most school districts do offer transportation because the parents and communities want it to reduce traffic congestion and to increase child safety.
If school districts are not mandated to provide school busing and do not apply for reimbursement funds, they are free to charge parents for the bus service, Menenghetti added.
Quinn’s 2012 fiscal year budget rested at $32.987 billion. Overall, his cuts reduced the budget passed by the General Assembly by $376 million.