The National School Transportation Association (NSTA) sent letters to 50 state governors and U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos yesterday – urging them to mandate action that requires school districts to fund transportation systems through the conclusion of the COVID-19 health crisis. NSTA Executive Director Curt Macysyn distributed letters, in response to actions by multiple states taken to close schools for the safety of the students, faculty, families, and support staff.
Statistically, private school bus contractors provide approximately 38 percent of school bus services for districts around the country. Industry-wide almost 26 million student are transported to-and-from school on a daily basis, utilizing nearly 500,000 school buses. The iconic yellow bus is acknowledged as the safest form of transportation for students to get to school, as well as extra-curricular activities.
“These are extraordinary times, and we urge you to take immediate action that directs state Departments of Education to require their school districts to continue to pay for pupil transportation funding for a 180-day school year – in the event of any reduction in transportation days. These funds are already allocated in State budgets and a mechanism is currently in place to distribute these funds. Our concern lies within our desire to maintain a sound student transportation infrastructure through this health crisis, a system that requires us to be prepared to re-engage immediately after this unprecedented interruption to the school year. It will not serve the schoolchildren of this country to have 38 percent of available student transportation options eliminated after this crisis subsides,” Macysyn stated in the letter.
Recently, COVID-19 virus presented the country with unprecedented challenges, and some of the hardest hit are the education and transportation sectors. As the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 have increased, various measures have been put in place to contain the spread of the virus. These measures include mandated closure of schools for a period of time, cancelations of almost all field trips, sporting events and charters, as well increased maintenance costs as a result of stringent disinfecting measures. Taken together, these actions have threatened the livelihood of thousands of workers, and have adversely impacted private school bus contractors throughout the country.
In order to provide continuity, school bus contractors need to maintain their fleet staffs and operations, as well as continue to pay drivers through this health crisis. Allowing them to do so is in the best interest of the student transportation system in general, and school children in particular. Student transportation remains the backbone of the educational system in the United States, and this important industry must be protected until this health crisis dissipates.
The organization urged policy-makers to take a long-range approach to funding the student transportation system that will enable it to maintain its viability – as soon as classes resume.
NSTA distributed the letters on Monday, March 16, 2020, to Governors’ offices, the Mayor’s Office of the District of Columbia, as well as the office of U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, in response to the growing list of school closures, that will eliminate school days in which school bus contractors are compensated. Contractors have also felt the pinch due to increased costs as a result of equipment disinfecting measures being required in school buses and other transportation-related equipment.
Lastly, NSTA suggested that school districts take a holistic approach to maintaining student transportation operations by highlighting their knowledge of bus routes, and utilizing this information to provide transportation for student breakfast and lunch programs that will be otherwise curtailed, as schools are forced to suspend classes.
Macysyn emphasized that to the extent that districts continue payments to school bus contractors, emergency stimulus monies would not be necessary to support the industry.