TACOMA — School districts in Washington state returning to school with remote learning this fall will no longer have pay back transportation funding for not busing students.
Gov. Jay Inslee issued a proclamation on Wednesday that allows districts to use its transportation funding, which is provided up-front at the beginning of the school year based on previous per-pupil head counts, for the following:
- The delivery of learning materials, including but not limited to, workbooks, homework packets, paper assignments and other tangible instructional materials.
- The delivery of meals.
- The delivery of hardware, Wi-Fi hotspots, or other technology solutions that increase student access to remote learning or online curriculum.
- The transportation of students to and from learning centers or other public or private agencies where educational and support services are provided to students.
Superintendents across the state voiced concern earlier this month that they would have to pay back the funding due to restrictions by state law that base transportation dollars on the number of students the district transported. Many districts are returning to school remotely this year in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and don’t plan to transport the number of students they typically do.
Superintendents sent a letter to state legislators on Aug. 7, asking for a fix.
Superintendents also said they needed to know whether they’d have funding to pay their bus drivers, or if they would have to start issuing layoff notices.
Districts now have funding to pay for bus drivers as needed, but may need to still issue layoff or furlough notices depending on how much work is needed.
School districts are required to “track and document the specific time and uses of school bus drivers and buses to deliver the tools and services listed in this order,” according to Inslee’s order.
In a letter to superintendents on Wednesday, state Superintendent Chris Reykdal said he was pleased with the governor’s order, but reminded districts that the order did not provide a guaranteed level of transportation funding for the 2020-21 school year, and that “changes or exceptions to the allocation model that provide additional or guaranteed revenue must come through the Legislature in the form of a bill or budget action.”
The Washington Education Association issued a statement on Wednesday, saying the order is a win for bus drivers, transportation staff and students.
“The Governor’s order provides some financial security for districts, and for transportation employees, that should help keep these critical employees on the payroll while schools are using distance learning models,” WEA stated. “It also recognizes that we will one day return to buildings. Keeping our bus drivers and transportation employees on staff will allow that to happen in a quicker and smoother fashion.”
Inslee’s order will remain in effect until the state of emergency, issued on Feb. 29, is rescinded, or until the order is amended or rescinded, whichever occurs first.