Most parents of school-age children expect their public school district to provide bus transportation to and from school for their students free of charge, but that could change under a proposal brought forth in the state House of Representatives late last month.
State Rep. Kurt Heise (R-Plymouth) wants to give public school districts the option of charging for transportation services, although the proposal, House Bill (HB) 4692, wouldn’t affect parents of students with disabilities or those who qualify for free or reduced lunch under the federal Richard B. Russell School Lunch Act.
School districts aren’t required to provide transportation services to all students under current state law. However, if the bill receives the blessing of both chambers of the state Legislature, a board of education for a district that does provide transportation services would have to vote to charge a fee for those services if they deemed it appropriate.
HB 4692 comes forth at a time when school districts across the state are struggling to balance their budgets in light of reduced funding from the state, increasing retirement and health care costs, as well as one-time funding from the federal government under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that has dried up.
Heise said the idea came from a constituent in Northville, where the level of school busing has been curtailed.
“What if we had a plan where parents could pay the school district to have their child transported by bus — would that be an option?” Heise asked. “Some parents said they would pay.”
Pointing out that he would be open to modifying the criteria currently set forth in the legislation — perhaps to take into consideration federal poverty levels or something similar — he said the bill would give districts “another tool in their toolbox.”
He said at this point he has only received “information questions” on the legislation, and that he hasn’t done nose counts to tally support in the House, which is controlled by the GOP. He said he expects the legislation to come up after some of the larger issues facing the state have been addressed this summer.
If enacted, how the fees for transportation would be paid would be left up to local school boards, he said.
State Rep. Bill Rogers (R-Milford), who chairs the House Appropriations Education Subcommittee, said that while the general issue of school transportation “could be addressed” by members of a 13-member group of legislators working on education issues this summer, that the proposal likely won’t have his support.
“I would have to say that, in this (economic) environment, it’s probably a non-starter,” he said.
And state Rep. Hugh Crawford (R-Walled Lake, Wixom), a member of the House Education Committee where the bill has been referred, said he is withholding judgment on the bill until committee testimony is heard.
“A few problems may exist with it,” Crawford said. “There could be people that don’t meet either one of those criteria (having a disability or qualifying for free or reduced lunch) but would have a very difficult time paying for transportation. It does give schools another option, another tool in the toolbox, but there could be a couple problems with it.”
State Rep. Eileen Kowall (R-Highland, White Lake) said that while she wouldn’t specifically comment on the legislation, given the large issues that have come before the state Legislature — particularly, a significant teacher tenure package and work on the Detroit River International Crossing — the bill isn’t “even on anybody’s radar screen yet.”
“It’s an interesting bill and could be a very significant change,” she said.
State Rep. Lisa Brown (D-West Bloomfield, Commerce, Wolverine Lake) could not be reached for comment prior to press time.