Busing money restoredAll districts cut $42 per student instead
With unaccustomed speed and bipartisanship, the Legislature restored a $248 million midyear cut to school transportation Thursday, agreeing to an alternative plan to spread the pain equally among all school districts by cutting funding by about $42 per student. Through his staff, Gov. Jerry Brown signaled that he’d sign SB 81.
The vote was 60 to 8 in the Assembly, with 12 legislators not voting, and 26 to 8 in the Senate, with 6 senators not voting. It was backed by the Education Coalition, consisting of the school boards and school administrators associations, the California Teachers Assn., and the state PTA.
In passing the budget last fall, legislators agreed to cut home-to-school transportation if revenue projections came up short in December, which they did. But districts that get the lion’s share of bus funding – hundreds of dollars, even $1,000 per student in the case of a few small rural districts – howled that busing was indispensable, and there was no way they could reasonably cut elsewhere instead. A few indicated that a cut of that size could force them into bankruptcy. Brown and legislators recognized, albeit late, that they had created a political headache.
The average cut of $42 per student in funding for the state’s 1,042 districts equals 0.65 percent of districts’ revenue limit – the base funding they receive.
In his proposed 2012-13 state budget, Brown proposes cutting all funding for home-to-school transportation – $500 million. SB 81 doesn’t deal with that, but Stephen Rhoads, an education lobbyist active in the issue, said he took its passage as “as a guarantee that there will be a transportation program next year in some form.” Rhoads said he couldn’t predict whether there will be more or less money or whether it will be distributed differently.
Legislators now recognize that the formula for distributing bus money is outdated. The formula is based on what districts received years ago; high-growth districts since then have found their per-student reimbursement shrinking.
Brown has proposed folding most categorical programs into the revenue limit, starting next year, and then redistributing the money based on populations of disadvantaged students. But rather than include bus transportation in the mix, he cut the funding.
The Legislature could duplicate the action it took this week to restore the bus money, but that would require doubling the revenue limit cut for the entire year: $84 per student. More likely, it could add $500 million to the education budget, by reducing the $2.1 billion that Brown had earmarked for wiping out a short-term debt owed to the schools, known as deferrals. Over the next four years, Brown wants to eliminate $8 billion in deferrals owed to schools. Restoring bus money would stretch out the repayment.