With Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed education cuts making headlines the past month, the Pennsylvania School Bus Association is speaking up about what the loss of funding for public schools may mean for student transportation in the Keystone State.
Specifically, the PSBA is concerned that his proposal to replace the current funding formula with a new Student Achievement Education Block Grant (SAEBG) will destabilize the state’s well-established school bus system.
On May 9, the state Senate proposed a new budget that rejects the governor’s plan to block-grant school funding, which educators and officials alike predict would lead to cuts in school bus service. The new version also restores $50 million to the Accountability Block Grant program, which helps pay for early childhood education, according to the Pennsylvania State Education Association.
"We need to do more to solve the funding crisis that is engulfing our schools. The Senate's budget proposal is a first step," said PSEA President Mike Crossey.
The PSBA, which represents 700 private school bus contractors employing 60,000 Pennsylvanians, said numerous school districts have discussed potential cuts to student transportation as they figure out their 2012–2013 budgets. Many of them, including Philadelphia and Chester Upland, are in especially dire straits: Philadelphia is considering a property tax adjustment to help the schools, and Chester Upland is seeking assistance from the state.
On May 21, the association stated that such cuts are an unintended consequence of Governor Corbett’s budget proposal because the new block grant for school bus service does not take into account the rising costs of transportation and fuel.
PSBA Executive Director Selina Pittenger stressed that school buses are not only the safest way to transport students to and from school, but they also play a major role in student attendance.
“School districts that stop providing transportation will see a decrease in attendance, which will impact the school’s state funding formula,” she said. “While some school districts might see a short-term budget impact by cutting transportation, in the long run it will likely have negative impacts on the school budget.”
Pittenger pointed to the Union County School System in Tennessee, whose absentee rates more than tripled — from 5.5 percent to 18 percent — after the district was forced to eliminate bus service because of budget constraints.
“Cutting transportation services means that a certain number of students simply won't be able to get to school—because the distance is too far to walk, or the route is too hazardous, and there is no parent available to drive the student,” says Robin Leeds, a consultant to the National School Transportation Association.
Parents overwhelmingly agree that reducing school bus service will likely spur a rise in absenteeism. According to a 2009 survey by the Opinion Research Corporation, 76 percent of parents believe that cancelling school bus service would “very likely” result in large numbers of students being absent more often, and 77 percent opposed cuts to school bus service or routes due to lack of funds.
“Under the governor’s budget, we may see the end of school busing in Pennsylvania as we know it, as school districts may choose to use money previously dedicated for transportation costs for other purposes,” Pittenger added.