Iowa legislators differ on two bills, one of which would provide more state funding for student transportation costs while the other would increase the time limit for school bus rides.
One-time vs. Long-term Funding
Senate File 455 modifies the calculation of supplemental state aid given to school districts, based on costs per student as well as the state’s percent of growth. It also provides funding for mandatory school transportation, with more funds going to districts with higher transportation costs per student.
The Senate’s version of the bill, which was introduced last March, would raise funding in increments of up to $20 per student over the next 10 years. But the House version that passed on Monday added amendment H-8010, which changed that to an extra $5 per student for this year only.
Rep. Walt Rogers explained that the amended bill would use the allotted $11.2 million to reduce some districts’ per-student transportation costs from $970 to $432, and that much of the funding would go to rural districts.
But not all legislators agree. “One-time money cannot be used for ongoing expenditures. It can certainly alleviate transportation costs one time, but you can't count on one-time money,” said Rep. Cindy Winckler. She introduced a competing amendment that would increase funding for three years and build it into the state formula for ongoing and equal distribution among all districts. But she later withdrew it.
“We weren’t ready to go the extended route of making this a standing appropriation because we want to watch and see what happens. We've had several years where our revenue hasn’t come in to the amount that was estimated,” Rep. Rogers said. He added that it was important to acknowledge that there was a difference in transportation costs and that some districts needed more than others.
The Rural School Advocates of Iowa and Urban Education Network of Iowa said they preferred the Senate's original bill because of its predictability and impact on all. Several rural districts told ABC 9 News that a long-term solution would be ideal but that they would appreciate having the extra money to help alleviate their transportation costs for even one year.
The bill now goes back to the Senate.
Extending School Bus Rides
A second bill, Senate File 2137, was introduced in the Senate on Jan. 31 and would increase the maximum one-way school bus ride time allowed for elementary students from one hour to one hour and 15 minutes. A school board may extend the bus ride times for elementary and high school students beyond 75 minutes if it holds two public hearings on the proposed route changes, adopts them at a third regularly scheduled board meeting and notifies all affected personnel 30 days before school starts.
Sen. Rita Hart introduced an amendment to strike the part of the bill allowing for extension of bus rides beyond 75 minutes, but it was defeated.
“I think that is simply wrong. No kid should have to sit on the school bus for two and a half hours a day, especially when they live one or two miles from the school,” Sen. Janet Petersen said in opposition to the bill. "We need more funding for transportation.”
“The elimination of a single bus route may result in savings related to staff, equipment, and fuel,” according to a state Fiscal Services Division review of the legislation. “There is potential for significant cost savings for local school districts that will be able to structure bus routes more efficiently as a result of SF 2137.”
For example, Greene County Community School District estimated that, under the new law, it could eliminate two bus routes and save $100,000 every year.
Sen. William Dotzler spoke out against the bill, saying that students could be riding the bus for more than 20 hours a week and that there were dangers associated with having them on rural, unpaved Iowa roads for that long. “This bill is a way of covering up the problem,” he said. “We’ve got to invest in rural Iowa, economic development, making our communities more attractive, if we're going to succeed as a state.”
“These are taxpayers’ dollars that we’re looking after. This is their money,” Sen. Mark Chelgren said in support of the bill. “This bill is about local control. This bill is about giving a choice to the school districts.”
Sen. Amy Sinclair added that the bill would allow special-needs students access to schooling and opportunities located farther away from their homes.
Organizations in favor of the bill include the Iowa Association of School Boards, School Administrators of Iowa and Rural School Advocates of Iowa.
The bill passed the Senate 30 to 18 on Tuesday and heads to the House Education Committee.