By Terri Jo Neff
The Fiscal Year 2022 K-12 Education bill signed last week by Gov. Doug Ducey contains several provisions which could vastly change school transportation options for students during the 2021-2022 school year, especially those who live in rural areas or outside a district’s boundaries.
House Bill 2898 contains In Lieu of Transportation Grants (ILT Grants) which among other things allows a school district to use a portion of the district’s transportation funding to provide ILT Grants to parents of students who attend the school district.
The grants, which require a plan submission to the Arizona Department of Education, also permit charter schools to use a portion of its Charter Additional Assistance funding for the same purpose.
Among the offerings which can be included in an ILT Grant plan is financial support for an individual parent or a neighborhood carpool which transports students to school. The legislation also includes a provision protecting a school district which seeks to offer ILT Grants for its students from having its transportation funding allocations reduced.
Charter schools which use CAA funding for transportation awards to parents must report such expenditures to the Department of Education.
HB2898 also establishes a Public School Transportation Modernization Grants Program (PSTMG Program) through the Arizona Department of Administration. The program, which would end in 2025, would select a third-party administrator to distribute grants to school districts, charter schools, or other eligible entities based on demand and the most innovative solutions.
The administrator, who would be permitted to retain up to five percent of the appropriations each year, must award at least 25 percent of the grants to rural and remote proposals if a sufficient number of qualified remote and rural proposals are submitted.
In another effort to ensure parents understand transportation options, HB2898 included language which now requires a school district to include transportation resource information in its open enrollment policies.
And for non-resident students with disabilities, a district will be required to provide transportation of no more than 30 miles (up from 20 miles) if the students’ individual education program specifies that transportation is necessary.
Meanwhile, school districts will have the option in 2021-2022 to provide transportation for nonresident students up to 30 miles if the student is deemed eligible for the Free or Reduced Price Lunch program. The current limit is 20 miles.
The school transportation legislation was signed by Ducey as districts across Arizona ramp up efforts to recruit drivers for the new school year. Some districts have reported needing to hire several dozen drivers, many who will be assigned to rural routes which often have only a handful of student riders.