The National School Transportation Association (NSTA) sent letters to the governors of all 50 states and to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Monday that ask for mandated action that requires school districts to fund transportation programs despite closing school in response to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
According to reporting by Education Week, as of Tuesday at noon Eastern time, 38 states had closed at least 74,000 school campuses to 38.8 million schoolchildren. That equates to over three-quarters of all schools and public-school students across the U.S.
“These are extraordinary times, and we urge you to take immediate action that directs state Departments of Education to require their school districts to continue to pay for pupil transportation funding for a 180-day school year, in the event of any reduction in transportation days. These funds are already allocated in State budgets and a mechanism is currently in place to distribute these funds,” wrote NSTA Executive Director Curt Macysyn on Monday. “Our concern lies within our desire to maintain a sound student transportation infrastructure through this health crisis, a system that requires us to be prepared to re-engage immediately after this unprecedented interruption to the school year. It will not serve the schoolchildren of this country to have 38 percent of available student transportation options eliminated after this crisis subsides.”
NSTA said that the 38 percent referred to the share of school busing nationwide that is provided by private contractor companies, some of which are NSTA members. In total, about 500,000 school buses transport 26 million students each school, over half of the public school K-12 enrollment, according to the National Center on Education Statistics.
NSTA added that continuity for not only students but also school transportation employees nationwide is paramount during the school closures. That means ensuring all school bus operations must continue so workers get paid.
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“Allowing them to do so is in the best interest of the student transportation system in general, and school children in particular,” the association said in a statement on Tuesday. “Student transportation remains the backbone of the educational system in the United States, and this important industry must be protected until this health crisis dissipates.”
Despite the closures, school bus operations have continued nationwide, for example as mobile food banks to serve students and families in need. NSTA also pointed out the need to take a “holistic approach” to utilizing routing knowledge and technology to assist with those efforts.
Meanwhile, contractors are also continuing operations. NSTA said these companies are feeling “the pinch” of increased costs of disinfecting buses and equipment.