A number of school districts in at least five states are looking to increase their cash flow by asking parents to pay for their children to take the bus to school, a move that officials hope will offset some of the budget deficits they face. The service was previously paid for by taxpayers.
A recent report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that state funding for education has been dropping for the last 7 years. At least 30 states were found to have offered less per-student funding than was given before the recession. Of those states, 14 cut that funding by at least 10%, if not more. Across the nation, state funding accounts for around 45% of revenue for school districts, with local government contributions accounting for about the same.
“It’s a trend that started back in ‘08 when the recession hit,” said Dan Domenech, executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association. “School districts’ budgets were cut back severely. As an alternative to cutting a lot of programs, districts went the route of charging fees for sports events, uniforms, after-school activities—and eventually transportation.”
Many parents are angered by the decision to ask them to pay for bus transportation, and school officials report concerns over children’s safety and access to education.
“When the budget hammer drops on pupil transportation, it’s usually children and their parents who take the hit. That’s just really unfortunate and a shame,” said Mike Martin, executive director of the National Association for Pupil Transportation, which represents school transportation directors.
Martin added that asking parents to pay for transportation costs is not typically done to make money, but as a way to compensate for budget shortfalls.
However, the decision has caused a number of negative consequences, including an increase in traffic congestion as many parents choose to drive their children to school rather than pay the fee, writes Jennie Bergal for Governing.com.
Proposed fees are varying from district to district, from $150 per child for students of Jeffco Public Schools in Golden, Colorado to $575 per year for children attending schools in the Poway Unified School District in San Diego County, California, which has a cap of $1,437 for three or more children. Students in grades 7 through 12 who attend school in Franklin, Massachusetts are being asked to pay $325 each with a cap of $975 per family.
Previously, schools across the country had required parents to pay for transportation as a convenience if their children lived a certain distance from the school. In many cases, that distance was two miles or less. Bus service has historically been free for students who live farther away.