Minnesota’s decade-long trend of underfunding education – inflation adjusted state cuts total 14 percent since 2003 – has crunched every aspect of school budgets, including transportation.
Our latest report, Wrong Way: Minnesota’s School Transportation Funding Disparities, explores how disinvestment forces district administrators statewide to either siphon funds from transportation to pay for basic needs or shift classroom dollars to cover getting students to and from school.
District leaders make budget-balancing decisions that include adopting four-day school weeks, cutting routes which lengthens time spent on buses, adding a fee or outright eliminating transportation for afterschool activities and increasing the distance from school that the district offers busing.
All of these factors create a situation where one of education’s fundamental aspects — simply getting to and from school — becomes a financial and political football. On top of basic underinvestment, an inadequate state transportation funding formula shorts many rural districts’ busing needs, while providing more densely populated districts with surplus funds, which they quickly use to cover other education requirements.
Since Minnesota’s constitution guarantees education and state law guarantees school transportation, the state must properly invest in all aspects of education. This will lessen the need to divert transportation dollars to cover overall state underfunding of schools.
State policy should be changed to take transportation funds out of each district’s general operating budget and into a special categorical fund, while still giving districts the flexibility to apply to the Minnesota Department of Education to transfer transportation funds in times of economic crisis. It should also change the current transportation funding formula, which is based on enrollment, to a more effective system based on miles traveled and student usage.
Better overall funding will eliminate the need for four-day school weeks and cuts in after school transportation to fill budget gaps. Minnesota’s students and their parents deserve a more adequate, accountable transportation funding system with better oversight to ensure a safe and timely ride to and from school.