$2M Added for Regional School Transportation
BOSTON —The Senate voted Thursday to add another $2 million in spending on regional school transportation reimbursement to its fiscal year 2020 budget document, an area of education funding where lawmakers from both parties said the state has not “kept its promise.”
The state used to pay regional districts for 100 percent of the costs of transporting students, but the fund has not reached that level for more than 15 years. The Senate budget up for debate this week, like the House’s budget approved last month, increased reimbursement by nearly $5 million compared to last year but only reimburses 80 percent of the total.
Minority Leader Bruce Tarr initially filed an amendment that would have increased the reimbursement line item by about $4.5 million, bringing the fund up to 85 percent of the total costs, but lawmakers ultimately unanimously agreed on a Sen. Anne Gobi further amendment reimbursing at 82 percent, a $2 million boost to the budgeted amount.
“This is a very important step forward,” Tarr said on the Senate floor. “I’m pleased we’re able to find a way to take it. I would also suggest it is a prime example of bipartisan collaboration on an issue we all care deeply about.”
Because the 58 regional school districts in Massachusetts cover larger geographic areas, they face greater costs to ensure all pupils can get to and from each school. The state is, by statute, supposed to fully cover the expenses as a way to help manage the burden, but for years has fallen below the rate of full reimbursement, creating strain at the local level.
The initially proposed 80 percent rate was an improvement over the 60 percent offered as recently as 2012, but senators argued Thursday the growth still does not go far enough.
“It is necessary to show that we are committed to our regional school districts,” Gobi said during debate. “This is one thing that helps to keep them going and it keeps a promise. We should not be known as the state that does not keep its promises to its school districts. We are going in the right direction.”