If you live in California and your children ride a school bus, Governor Jerry Brown took away state funding for such transportation this week in his “trigger” budget cuts. As an educator, I recognize the particular challenge already facing financially strapped California schools to try and continue such services to children out of their general funds. In particular, rural districts like mine are hit the hardest, as we have less students that must be transported farther than city children.
Not only is cutting school transportation funding bad for education; it is bad for the environment too.
Just this week I wrote about how we could learn a lot from teenagers’ transportation habits to curb climate change. One such practice is riding school buses, which are always packed. Sure school buses run on inefficient engines that average seven miles per gallon and emit toxic fumes that harm children’s brains, yet if students don’t attend school, schools are not funded. School funding is based on average daily attendance (ADA), and absences do not count. Furthermore, after three unexcused absences, parents are turned into truancy boards and may have to attend legal hearings if more absences occur. Transportation woes, such as a flat tire, are unexcused. Even if a child is 30 minutes late to school, it is usually counted as an absence. Without buses, working parents, poor parents, any parent may have trouble getting their children to school consistently, as well as picking them up. The school day does not exactly match the work day.
LA Unified has sued the state over the budget cuts. Business Week reports:
School districts throughout California are scrambling to cover the elimination of $248 million in funding for school buses starting next month, with the state’s largest district filing a lawsuit to block the cuts and others saying they’ll have to use reserves in order to keep transportation service.
“It’s an incredibly unfair way to go about this,” said Marc Johnson, superintendent of Sanger Unified School District, which covers 185-square miles in the Central Valley and where some two-thirds of students take buses to school.
Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday announced the elimination in bus funding as part of a package of so-called trigger cuts in state programs that will go into effect in January due to a shortfall in state revenue for the current fiscal year.
School districts will also see another $79.6 million lopped in general funding.
John Deasy, superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District, called the loss of $38 million in bus funds to his district “catastrophic,” saying it would affect 48,000 students, including 13,000 special needs students. The school board immediately voted to file for a temporary restraining order to block the cut.
Only special education and homeless children are federally mandated to be transported to school.
Despite inefficiencies in school bus fuel economy, our Earth still benefits from this form of mass transportation. According to the American School Bus Council:
|The number of students transported by each school bus||54|
|Average number of students transported per car if a school bus is not available (ASBC estimate)||1.5|
|The number of cars needed to transport students currently riding on one school bus||36|
|The number of cars needed to transport students currently riding on all school buses in the U.S.||17,333,333|
|Average fuel consumption (mpg) for school buses (ASBC estimate, assuming large capacity buses, diesel engines)||7|
|Average fuel consumption (mpg) for private vehicles (gasoline engines). (see http://www.epa.gov/oms/fetrends.htm)||20.8|
|Total daily car mileage saved by students riding school buses||346,666,660|
|Total annual car mileage saved by students riding school buses||62,399,998,800|
The average car emits 1.2 pounds carbon dioxide per mile traveled, whereas public transportation on a bus emits a little over 0.2 pounds per mile. You can see this is a big saving for our planet.
It may be too late to do anything about climate change, but we have to try. Any government decision should weigh the environmental consequences which should then should be used to prioritize spending cuts. Yea, I know, I am a dreamer…