Consolidated rural school districts that require long bus rides for students would get help with transportation costs under a bill that cleared the Republican-dominated House Education Committee at the statehouse Wednesday.
Transportation costs per student vary from $100 in urban districts to $900 or more in districts that cover large geographic areas.
Under the bill, the state would spend $11.2 million next year to buy down per-pupil busing costs so no district pays more than $432 per student.
Schools with the highest per pupil transportation costs will get the most help.
“There’s going to be some districts here getting thousands of dollars, $311-thousand for Northwest Webster,” said Rep. Walt Rogers (R-Cedar Falls.) “That’s a lot of money to help with their transportation issues.”
Manson Northwest Webster School District currently spend $912 per student. That’s just behind the district with the largest transportation costs, North Winneshiek Community Schools. Their costs have reached $969 per student.
The bill promises no additional money in future years.
Rep. Cindy Winckler (D-Davenport) says one year’s help won’t be enough for many rural districts.
“We had a superintendent from Davis County that talked about the fact that we are so underfunded, this was his words, we are so underfunded that something is better than nothing, but one-time money does me no good,” Winckler said. “It concerns me that we are not willing to address the inequities that we know are there in a significant way.”
Davis County Community School District has only one high school for the whole county. They currently pay close to $700 per student to bus kids to school. Under the bill they would receive $305-thousand next year.
Rep. Rogers defended the bill, saying it’s what the state can afford this year.
“We put forth a fix, at least a start, to fix transportation equity today,” Rep. Rogers countered. “We want to continue to watch this process to make sure it’s the right amount.”
The bill proceeds to the full House for debate.
Another bill under consideration would authorize longer bus rides for students.
Under current Iowa law, one-way bus rides are limited to 60 minutes for elementary students and 75 minutes for secondary students. The bill would allow 75 minute one-way bus rides for elementary students, or even longer rides for students of any age if public hearings are held and parents are notified 30 days before a route is changed.