SPRINGFIELD, Ill (AP) - School buses might be the next target of state officials who are trying to stretch every dollar as Illinois’ budget crisis drags on.
State education officials are looking at ways to make the most of the limited amount of money available to pay for student transportation. One proposal would change the way Illinois distributes that money, and another would let schools charge for bus service.
A proposal could be introduced as early as this week, a spokesman for the State Board of Education said Monday. It would have to be approved by legislators before it could take effect.
“We’re trying to find a way that would maximize the dollars we have,” said spokesman Matt Vanover. State funding for student transportation has fallen to $205 million, 42 percent less than in 2010.
Right now, the state reimburses school districts for a fixed percentage of whatever they spend on transportation. Under the new proposal, officials would determine the average statewide costs of getting students to and from school. Then, districts would be reimbursed for their costs up to that average level. That would encourage districts that spend more than the average to find ways of cutting costs.
As part of this approach, officials might eliminate the requirement that districts provide free transportation for students, which would allow some schools to charge a fee to recoup costs above the state average. Currently, districts must transport students who live more than 1.5 miles away from school, but changes could raise the threshold to two or more miles and follow routes with bus stops farther from students’ homes.
“I think you would have the potential to see transportation operations run more like municipal school buses, where we are just going to run certain routes, stop in certain places, students would pay a token or dollar and if you get on, you’re on and if you weren’t there, you didn’t,” Jim Lovelace, director of operations for the Ball-Chatham School District, told The (Springfield) State Journal-Register.
In theory, a district could even eliminate buses entirely, although Vanover said that would be unlikely.
But even with the transportation requirement still in place, districts have tinkered with service in an effort to cut costs. “Since we’ve seen funding reduced, a number of districts have made to make adjustments on routes,” Vanover said.
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