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Tips on Using CARES Act Funds to Purchase School Bus Technology

A recent Premier Wireless webinar provided guidance on available federal stimulus grant money and, specifically, how transportation departments can use the funds to secure the technology they need most.

Technology solutions provider Premier Wireless aims to enable innovation, communication, safety and transformation through technology, explained President and CEO Lea Bogle.

“You can have great ideas but if you don’t have the funding, then you can’t implement them,” she said. Thus, Premier Wireless partners with the Grants Office, the nation’s leader in grant intelligence, to connect those dots.

Elizabeth Evans, an education specialist at the Grants Office, explained the role of the Grants Office – helping organizations successfully pursue grant funding.

Approved Uses of CARES Act Funds

The U.S. federal government passed the CARES Act stimulus package in March 2020, which included the Elementary & Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Funds. A second round of ESSER funding passed last December, allocating 4 times as much as the first round. Evans noted that the funds go to Local Education Agencies (LEAs), who can use them to pay for technology on their school buses that helps a school respond to the Covid Crisis in one of 10 different ways.

“ESSER funds are designed to help districts prepare for, respond to and prevent the spread of coronavirus,” Evans stated.

She added that the funds support developing policies, coordinating with local health authorities, and training drivers and attendants.

These funds are available to help with the fallout of unintended consequences and rapid changes that are necessary during this time, Evans said.

Among the solutions Premier Wireless offers that can be purchased with ESSER funds are: remote camera access, school bus Wi-Fi, student tracking and contact tracing.

Wi-Fi

According to a survey conducted by Premier Wireless, one in four respondents were planning to add Wi-Fi to their fleet. The average commute is 1.5 hours a day and, in rural areas, can reach up to 4 hours round-trip. Enabling students to study on the bus allows them to reach school well-prepared for the day, Bogle explained.

It can also improve equity, increase student engagement and result in better test scores. The Wi-Fi does not allow access to streaming or gaming sites, but it does allow students to download what they need for homework and school assignments.

Evans related that parking Wi-Fi buses in neighborhoods during the pandemic kept students & teachers connected. This setup can be used in other incidents like school building closures or even natural disasters, she elaborated.

Camera Access

In addition to the wi-fi on the bus, the Premier Wireless ConnectED Bus™ also provides real-time camera access. Keeping a designated bandwidth for remote access for cameras and DVRs allows real-time access to bus cameras so that staff can intervene in cases of student bullying, violence, accidents or medical emergencies.

Student Tracking

The Premier Wireless survey indicated 70 percent of respondents currently have GPS, but only 23 percent of them have student tracking. Along with GPS, the ConnectED Bus™ offers student tracking to document as students board and deboard the bus, helping to ensure that they are getting on or off at the correct location.

The student tracking component also offers an app for students and parents to be able to anticipate the arrival of the bus for daily commutes, field trips and extracurricular activities.

Contact Tracing

Combining the real-time camera access and student tracking components of the ConnectED Bus™ provides additional safeguards for contact tracing. Student tracking allows staff to see who was on the bus while the real-time camera access allows staff to pinpoint student seating locations. Both facets are critical for quickly and easily determining who would need to quarantine if a student COVID-19 case is reported.

Evans said this thinking of unique needs and preparing for the future is the goal of the funding. A silver lining of COVID-19 is that funding for such technology is now accessible when it might not have been available before, Bogle noted.

Other Offerings

Premier Wireless’ Event View & Field Trip Manager allows staff and parents to be better coordinated. COVID-19 has necessitated many changes as social distancing and blended schedules force routes to be changed. The ConnectED Bus™ solution includes routing but can also integrate virtually any routing software to provide turn-by-turn directions, which is especially helpful for changing routes or substitute drivers.

The company’s “extremely robust” push-to-talk radio solutions allow one-to-one communication as well as allowing management to reach certain groups of buses, or even all of them at once. With how chaotic school transportation operations can be, a centralized dispatching and unified communication system is essential, Bogle noted.

Evans related a time when a morning road incident resulted in buses being delayed and an influx of students showing up to school at once. This seemingly minor incident caused major issues as the school was trying to maintain social distancing and allow time for temperature scanning and hand sanitizing with staggered arrivals and departures. Because the pertinent info about the delay never made it to the school, staff members were stressed and class time was wasted due to a lack of communication between the bus drivers and school staff.

“Traffic accidents just happen – they’re a fact of life,” she commented. “How can we prepare and be ready?”

Free, Customized Funding Report

The Premier Wireless Grant Support Program helps districts determine what federal and state grants they qualify for, working closely with each district to help get their projects funded.

Rewatch the webinar, on-demand and you will receive your FREE customized Transportation Technologies Grant Funding Report for your school district (valued at $795).

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