For years, school officials have been lamenting the state’s underfunding of transportation.
Without adequate funding from the state, they say, districts must devote more and more of their local levy dollars to get kids to school.
One of their loudest charges: the state doesn’t reimburse districts for transporting students whose homes or daycares lie outside a one-mile radius from school. And instead of calculating the actual route mileage, the distance is measured as a direct line from school to home or daycare. Or, in the colloquial, “as the crow flies.”
Actually, says Allan Jones with the state Superintendent of Public Instruction, the state does provide some money to bus kids within the one-mile radius. But not much.
Jones, director of pupil transportation, says the state gives districts some funding based on the total number of kids in kindergarten through through fifth grade within the one-mile radius.
The original intent was to help districts defray the cost of transporting youngsters who faced hazardous walking conditions, even though they lived close to school.
But it’s a lower rate than what the state funds for students living outside the one-mile minimum. And the districts don’t have to have hazardous walking conditions to get the money. They don’t even have to use the money to transport kids within that radius.
Here’s how Jones explains it, and the “crow flies” business in an e-mail to The News Tribune.
“There is funding for transportation services within the first radius mile … it is called K-5 funding and is based on the number of K-5 students living within one radius mile of their school of enrollment. This funding was intended to cover the cost of providing transportation service to those students within one mile where it is not safe for them to walk to school.
“The legislature changed to this method of funding transportation within one mile back in the early 90’s. (Prior to that, districts were identifying hazardous walking conditions and were expected to work to remove the hazards.)
“While districts do receive funding for within one mile (via the K-5) … that isn’t very much ($15.8 Million statewide in 2008-09). There is also no requirement that a district spend that money in the manner it is allocated.
“When you consider that districts were underfunded by $130 Million statewide in 2007-08 (our latest figures), you can see that most large districts were using a lot of local levy money to fill the underfunding in transportation budgets. (our total funding for school districts for transportation operations was $253.5 Million in 08-09)
“The reason the current system is based on radius miles is because it was implemented in 1982-83 … before GIS systems and desktop computers.
“At that time, districts had to submit their fall ridership counts on maps drawn on tracing paper with radius miles scribed with compasses. Then bus routes and stops were drawn on the paper and OSPI used a process of manually digitizing the route information.
“In the early 90’s, the system was changed to a GIS system (latitudes and longitudes), but the funding basis was maintained on radius miles …
“A new funding system (included in the Basic Ed Reform Bill … ESHB 2261) includes a change in funding for students within one mile. Districts will determine a walk area and receive funding for all students outside the walk area.
“They will have to document that there is not a safe route to school with a distance less than one road mile …
“So, the funding system will then not be based on “as the crow flies” … but the implementation date for the funding system is ‘no later than 2013′.”