State Funding Formulas for Pupil Transportation.
The state's statutory program of basic education includes transportation to and from school for eligible students, including transportation of students for special education services and between schools and learning centers.
To provide transportation allocations to school districts, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) uses the Student Transportation Allocation Reporting System (STARS), which is a regression formula that uses prior year expenditures, student passenger counts, and district characteristics to calculate the expected costs of to and from transportation. The STARS formula result is then compared to the district's allowable transportation expenditures from the prior year. The school district receives the lesser of the two calculated amounts, plus any compensation adjustments provided in the operating budget.
Counts of basic and special program passengers are used in the STARS formula. Special program passengers include students in special education, bilingual programs, highly capable programs, homeless programs, and other programs transporting students separately from basic program passengers.
Transportation Alternate Funding Grant Program.
The Transportation Alternate Funding Grant Program provides grant awards to school districts in addition to the STARS formula allocation. As part of the award process for the grants, the OSPI must review school districts' efficiency ratings, key performance indicators, and other characteristics, such as unique geographic constraints, low enrollment, geographic density of students, the percentage of students served under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act (McKinney-Vento Act) from outside the district, or whether a district is a non-high school district.
Federal Requirements for Homeless and Foster Student Transportation.
Federal laws include requirements for student transportation of homeless students and students in foster care, including transportation to and from a student's school of origin upon request and when it is in the child's best interest.
The federal McKinney-Vento Act defines "homeless children and youths" to mean individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. Under the McKinney-Vento Act, homeless children are entitled to receive transportation comparable to what is available to non-homeless students.
The federal Every Student Succeeds Act includes requirements for school districts to develop procedures that address how transportation to the schools of origin for children in foster care will be provided, arranged, and funded.
In cases where a student is living outside the school district where a school of origin is located, multiple school districts and child welfare agencies may coordinate in determining a method of transportation and arrangements to share costs.
Beginning in the 2022-23 school year, school districts must report allowable transportation expenditures for special passengers monthly. Special passengers include, but are not limited to:
Beginning in the 2023-24 school year, the Superintendent of Public Instruction must distribute monthly allocations to reimburse school districts for special passenger expenditures. Reimbursements through December of a school year are based on special passenger expenditures reported for the prior year, and allocations are adjusted each month thereafter based on current year reported expenditures so that districts receive allocations for all reimbursable costs within a school year.
Reimbursable special passenger costs are removed from the STARS regression formula. References to the phase-in period of the transportation distribution that no longer apply to the STARS regression formula or special passenger reimbursements are removed.
If a school district's reimbursable costs exceed 105 percent of the state average reimbursable cost per student, the State Auditor must review the transportation costs to ensure they are necessary and reasonable costs attributable to transporting students.
The Transportation Alternate Funding Grant Program is revised to remove the percentage of students outside the district served under the McKinney-Vento Act from the review process for awards.
The OSPI must provide an analysis of school district transportation costs and allocations for the 2023-24 school year by January 1, 2025. The analysis must include the mileage, ridership, and costs for each district, disaggregated by the following groups: students with disabilities, students who are homeless, students in foster care, and all other students transported to and from school. The Legislature intends to use this data to inform its future discussions on revising the student transportation allocation model to be more predictable and transparent.
(In support) Though the formulas described are complex, the purpose of the bill is to make transportation funding more predictable for districts than the current STARS formula. Transportation costs for students that are homeless, in special education, or foster care are the hardest costs to predict, which is why making these costs reimbursable at the front-end of the formula makes sense. Districts have expressed the need for transportation formulas to be more predictable.
This improves transportation funding formulas, particularly for students in foster care, that are homeless, or receiving special education services required by an IEP. To cover the costs of the bill, it should be funded between $60 million to $100 million statewide. Districts report $2 to $3 million deficits for cost not reimbursed by the STARS formula.
Schools are required by federal law to provide transportation for students in foster care, homeless students, and special education students with transportation written into an IEP. These students are often farthest away from educational justice. Yellow school buses are not always the best option, and individual and alternative modes of transportation such as taxis or HopSkipDrive are often required for these students. These costs fall outside of transportation funding formulas. Providing this transportation provides support for families and stability in students' education.
Many school districts support the bill, and it is a good starting point and first step. A second step would be to update the underlying STARS formula to move to a more transparent and predictable formula, which can be done next year. The STARS funding formulas need reform and are difficult to work with.
There is an accountability mechanism in the bill, requiring the State Auditor to review districts with cost above the statewide average cost.
The sponsor's work to meet the unique needs of these student populations is appreciated. This bill ensures vulnerable students such as foster, homeless, and special education students have adequate funding for transportation.
The two biggest issues for districts are transportation deficits and enrollment declines. Transportation formulas have never been fully implemented or funded, and STARS was broken from the beginning.