Group letter: Opposing cuts to transportation funding (June 12, 2017)

TO:                      The Honorable Members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly

FROM:                Concerned Public Education Transportation Stakeholders

DATE:                 June 12, 2017

RE:                      Proposed Transportation Funding Cut

We urge you to restore the proposed $50 million cut to the transportation line item and to fully fund the state’s transportation formula as provided in state law. The proposed cut in funding contained in both the Governor’s budget proposal and in the House-passed budget bill will wipe out the proposed Basic Education Funding increases in many school districts, leaving them with less state funding in 2017-18 than they received this year.

Overall, the state covers about 40% of school district transportation costs, leaving districts to fund the remaining 60% locally. Because they are responsible for such a large share of these costs, school districts have implemented efficiency measures to reduce their overall transportation costs, however, additional efficiencies cannot be achieved for 2017-18. The data used to calculate transportation funding for schools has already been reported—it is historical data, and the transportation formula pays in arrears. Simply put, without a time machine, there is no opportunity for schools to engage in any efficiency measures to offset the proposed cut.

Budget documents indicate that the proposed $50 million cut was based on a reduction in school bus ridership. PennDOT figures reveal that ridership has dropped a mere 0.3%, however, the number of miles driven by school buses continues to increase. According to PennDOT data, Pennsylvania school buses drove over 394 million miles last year, more than any year before. This increase can be traced to a number of factors, including the transportation of special education, non-public and charter school students. Many of these students are transported to schools outside of their resident districts, and as a result, school districts cover many miles each day to transport a small number of students. While this is certainly inefficient, state and federal mandates provide for little flexibility when it comes to student transportation, and the miles, and therefore the costs, continue to be the responsibility of school districts.

Fuel costs, which are not included in the current formula, are not the only factors to be considered when discussing pupil transportation costs. There are a myriad of expenses impacting school bus contractors and school districts. For example, it costs an estimated $2,500 to $3,000 in training costs to put a competent driver behind the wheel of a school bus, and many annual expenses, including insurances, tires and maintenance increase beyond the annual CPI changes applied to the pupil transportation formula

We agree that the 40 year old transportation formula has its flaws, and we are willing to engage in dialogue on updating this formula. However, to expect any meaningful results through a redesign of the formula requires a deliberative and thoughtful process. We welcome a conversation about how to improve the current transportation funding formula; however, it is simply unrealistic and inappropriate to think that this can happen in any effective manner prior to July 1, 2017.

School districts are finalizing their 2017-18 budgets, and they have yet to be provided with any indication of how this proposed $50 million cut could be accomplished. The lack of transparency and any concrete information about how this cut would impact each of our 500 school districts is a strong argument against moving forward with this cut next year.

We ask your support to restore the $50 million to the transportation funding line item. Our students and their families deserve nothing less.

Sincerely,

Pennsylvania Association of Intermediate Units

Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools

Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators

Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials

Pennsylvania Principals Association

Pennsylvanian School Boards Association

Pennsylvania School Bus Association