As large consolidated rural school districts struggle with soaring transportation costs, a bill advanced in the Iowa Senate that could reduce costs for some districts.
Under current Iowa law, one-way bus rides are limited to 60 minutes for elementary students and 75 minutes for secondary students.
The bill would allow 75 minute one-way bus rides for elementary students, or even longer rides for students of any age if public hearings are held and parents are notified 30 days before a route is changed.
Officials with Greene County Community Schools testified at a subcommittee hearing earlier this month.
The district has an elementary school and high school in the same community.
Sen. Ken Rozenboom (R-Oskaloosa) says the district proposes increasing the bus ride for the younger students to 75 minutes.
“It would allow them to eliminate two bus routes and save approximately $100,000,” Rozenboom said. “That puts money to educating children.”
The Republican-dominated Education Committee approved the bill on a voice vote.
Sen. Rob Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids) asked to be recorded as a no vote.
“I understand there was an amendment that took it from unfettered discretion to 75 minutes,” Hogg said. “But even that could be waived and that just seems like too long for students to be on a school bus.”
Advocates for rural schools say transportation costs per student in large consolidated districts can reach as much as $1200 compared to as little as $100 per student in urban schools.
That enables urban schools to spend more money per student in the classroom.
A bill approved in the Senate last year and awaiting action in the House would have phased in a formula to direct more state money for rural transportation costs.
“We haven’t forgotten that bill,” said Sen. Tod Bowman (D-Maquoketa.) “The House of Representatives needs to take a look at that.”
The bill approving longer bus rides now advances to the full Senate for debate.