Georgia Lawmakers Should Renew Their Commitment to Student Transportation

In House Bill 31, the state of Georgia continues a pattern of shortchanging pupil transportation that triggers safety concerns and significant costs for local school districts.[1] In FY 2019 the state allotted $131 million for pupil transportation through the Quality Basic Education funding formula, representing a 22.3 percent decrease from FY 2009. Over this same time, the costs associated with busing students increased year-over-year. With no additional money planned for student transportation included in HB 31, local districts are again left to address the issue with little help, especially troublesome for rural school districts.

One culprit for the rising transportation costs is the failure to account for the true needs of Georgia’s schools. The Quality Basic Education (QBE) formula only allotted money for 8,827 drivers in FY 2019, but there are closer to 14,700 bus drivers across the state.[2] Traditionally QBE funds pay for driver salaries and school bus replacement. Since FY 2011 bus replacement has been financed outside QBE through the sale of bonds.

Another reason is due to a decision made in the throes of the Great Recession. State policymakers shifted the responsibility for paying health insurance costs for non-teaching staff from the state to local school districts.[3] This decreased further state education spending, leaving districts to cover the cost. Large additional expenses have continued the state trend of reducing its contribution to student transportation funding since 1991, when it covered 54 percent.

School districts saddled with health insurance and higher transportation costs once carried by the state are tapping money once used for other school needs. Rising fuel prices and the need for more drivers as enrollment grows also eat at local budgets. Meanwhile, state lawmakers declined to come up with enough money to replace the state’s aging bus fleet. At the beginning of the 2018 school year 3,460 buses in service for at least 15 years belonged to Georgia schools. That represents about one out of every four buses on the road. In fact, 39 school buses on a daily route are 30 years or older, meaning that as many as 2,600 students ride to school each day on a bus that was made before the first website was created.[4] Older buses are more likely to break down and lack advanced safety features.[5] The state’s 2020 budget allocates $20 million in bonds for school bus replacement. This amount equates to just less than 217 buses, or 6.3 percent of the buses 15 years and older.[6]

Georgia lawmakers should reconsider the state’s commitment to student transportation. Safe, reliable transportation to and from school ought to be provided to all of Georgia’s public school students, regardless of the wealth of their community. The first step to meeting this goal is to renew the state’s investment in school buses and the professionals who transport students daily to and from school, field trips and extracurricular activities.

[1] 2018 Superintendent’s Transportation Information Report

[2] Suggs, C. (2018). Shrinking State Funds Trigger Student Bus Safety Concerns. Georgia Budget & Policy Institute. Retrieved from: https://gbpi.org/2018/shrinking-state-funds-trigger-student-bus-safety-concerns/

[3] According to the Georgia Department of Education, the cost of a basic bus is $77,220. A basic bus has no extras including air conditioning. The average actual bus price paid by Georgia districts in fiscal year 2017 was $92,365. (Georgia Department of Education. (2017) Pupil Transportation Division Legislative Report. Atlanta, GA: Same.)

[4] Suggs, C. (2018). Overview: 2019 Fiscal Year Budget for K-12 Education. Georgia Budget & Policy Institute. Retrieved from: https://gbpi.org/2018/overview-2019-georgia-budget-k-12-education/

[5] Suggs, C. (2018). Shrinking State Funds Trigger Student Bus Safety Concerns. Georgia Budget & Policy Institute. Retrieved from: https://gbpi.org/2018/shrinking-state-funds-trigger-student-bus-safety-concerns/

[6] GBPI analysis of the 2018 Superintendent’s Transportation Information Report.

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