On a vote of 30 to 20, the Iowa Senate passed a bill to allow longer bus rides for schoolchildren in large rural districts struggling with transportation costs.
Under the bill, both elementary and secondary students could ride up to 75 minutes one way.
Longer bus rides would be allowed if public hearings are held and parents are notified 30 days before a route is changed.
Currently, younger children’s rides are limited to 60 minutes.
Sen. Amy Sinclair (R-Chariton) used the example of Green County Schools, where officials say they can save $100,000 by eliminating two bus routes.
“That’s $100,000 that can go right back into the classroom,” Sinclair said.
But critics warned schools may put financial decisions over the welfare of kids.
“Making bus rides longer for our children and our grandchildren is not a good solution to a problem we've created,” said Sen. Rita Hart (D-Wheatland). “The solution is adequate funding and robust economic policies that will create good-paying jobs and a revitalization of our small towns and rural areas.”
“Please think about your home districts because it's only going to get worse,” added Sen. David Johnson (I-Ocheyedan). “We're going to be putting young kids on buses even longer.”
Backers said school boards are in the best position to make transportation decisions.
“This bill is about local control,” said Sen. Mark Chelgren (D-Ottumwa).
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Ken Rozenboom (R-Oskaloosa), said there are safeguards in the bill to ensure that parents’ voices are heard.
“I think the two public hearings that engage with the public and the parents and families of these children is sufficient to vet the request of the school board,” Rozenboom said. “The process they have to go through is detailed enough and elaborate enough to allow them to come to a good local decision on this.”
The bill now goes to the House.