Iowa schools with disproportionately high transportation costs are getting a funding boost from the state. But the one-time increase won’t get them very far.
The Delwood Community School District north of Davenport spends $896 per pupil on transportation. That’s among the highest in Iowa, and nearly three times the state average of $315. The district is slated to get $88,000 under a statewide school funding bill the governor signed Thursday. It's temporary for now, but Delwood Superintendent Todd Hawley says it's a step in the right direction.
“The one-time money is…I guess you really have to look at that and say what is the best bang for the buck? What can we use this for? Maybe there are things we have been putting off for a while. Like I said, the curriculum and the technology,” Hawley said.
Because it’s a one-time check, Hawley says he can’t really spend the money on a recurring expense like transportation. Instead, he wants to send that funding into the classroom.
“The new K-12 social studies standards and the science standards have come out the last…at least social studies this year and science the last three to four years. It takes an enormous amount of money to try and meet those standards,” he said.
Still, some students at Delwood, which serves preschoolers through six graders, are on buses for 45 minutes to an hour everyday. And Hawley says transportation costs show no signs of slowing down. But the district is trying to make changes to curb that spending.
"We actually have been going over to more regular gas engines and pulling away from the diesel," Hawley said. "So we're making some cost adjustments there with the different types of engines that we purchase."
He says the district has also looked at eliminating bus routes,but says it's not feasible. Even with the high costs of transportation, Hawley says enrollment is on the rise and the district is solvent. But the expenses are more of a burden for other schools in the state.
North Winneshiek Community School District spends $969 per pupil and is slated to get $152,000 under the new law. But that may be too little, too late for the northeast Iowa district. Last month, voters approved a plan to completely consolidate the school by the 2019 - 2020 school year.
Governor Kim Reynolds signed the bill in Davenport Thursday. Under the plan, the state will spend $11.2 million dollars to offset costs in the districts that need it most.
Iowa Public Radio's past reporting on transportation disparities among school districts is available here.