Grants Will Promote K-12 Transportation Innovation While Helping Parents Afford Individualized Options

Grants Will Promote K-12 Transportation Innovation While Helping Parents Afford Individualized Options

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.

Ducey Receives K-12 Budget Bill And Related Education Legislation On Last Day Of Session

Ducey Receives K-12 Budget Bill And Related Education Legislation On Last Day Of Session

By Terri Jo Neff |

The Democrats in the Arizona Legislature may have held firm on their complete opposition to the proposed K-12 budget bill, but all 47 Republicans worked through their differences in the House and Senate to get the multi-faceted House Bill 2898 to Gov. Doug Ducey’s desk Wednesday.

The major holdup with the 200-plus page HB2898 involved a Senate amendment which expanded eligibility for Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) from about 250,000 students to more than 700,000.  ESAs give credit to an eligible child for most of the government education funding that would have been paid to that student’s public or charter school.

Those funds can then be used toward expenses at private schools as well as other educational costs.

Most House Republicans supported the Senate’s amended version of the K-12 bill but opposition from Reps. Joel John (R-LD4), Michelle Udall (R-LD25), and Joanne Osborne (R-LD13) meant the House ended up approving a K-12 bill which differed from the Senate’s version.

The 16 Republican senators and 31 Republican representatives could pass any bills if they all vote together. But the differing positions on HB2898 required members of both chambers to negotiate a compromise. The result was changes to how soon certain students can qualify for an ESA, although the bill will not benefit another 450,000 students.

Rep. Bret Roberts (R-LD11) supported a larger ESA expansion in the Senate’s bill, but noted the final version still “gives parents more choices.” He added that it “brings the free market into the education system.” Meanwhile, Rep. Jake Hoffman (R-LD12) liked the “opportunities and power” the new legislation gives to parents.

Ducey signed HB2898 on Wednesday along with the 10 other bills which make up the $12.8 billion Fiscal Year 2022 budget package. The new fiscal year starts Thursday.

ESA eligibility was not the only compromise necessary to get HB2898 to Ducey’s desk. An amendment added to the bill with limited debate earlier this week mandated controversial standards for civics curriculum. It faced pushback from Sen. Paul Boyer (R-LD20). Without Boyer’s vote, the entire K-12 budget bill was in peril.

Another compromise led to removal of the last minute civics amendment and Boyer then voted for HB2898.

Other education-related bills were sent to Ducey on Wednesday, including HB2241 which requires information about the Holocaust and other genocides to be taught at least twice between grades 7 and 12. The bill passed both chambers with overwhelming bipartisan support.

The other bill, SB1572, involves early literacy policy at the State Board of Education and the Arizona Department of Education. It impacts dyslexia training and screening requirements, establishes a literacy endorsement for qualified teachers, creates an entry evaluation tool for kindergarten pupils with parental notification requirements, and mandates a K-3 Reading Program report.