Rural districts across Minnesota and Iowa say state transportation aid falls short of need, and the cost to transport students to rural schools pulls money away from instructional expenses, according to an article by the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
More than 44 percent of districts in Minnesota and 53 percent of districts in Iowa are small and rural. In many of these rural districts, students in far-flung corners of the state ride the bus for an hour or longer to get to school, which adds up to more than a million miles of driving each year for some districts.
To make up for the high cost of transportation, some school districts have pulled money from general education funds. The Forest Lake Area school district in Minnesota, for example, has pulled $1 million from its general education fund to cover transportation, with several other districts reporting transportation funding shortages of more than $670,000. In some districts, dipping into the general fund means less money for teacher salaries and textbooks.
Jerry Fiene, the executive director of the Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance, told the Star Tribune that the shortage of transportation funds ultimately impacts students. “We have seen over the last number of years a pretty dramatic decline in student opportunities in rural schools because of the high cost of transportation,” Fiene said.
Several states in the Midwest have considered transportation aid legislation this year, although little progress has been made. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker proposed a boost in transportation aid in his budget proposal earlier this year, and legislation proposed in Minnesota is aiming to provide $3 million in transportation funds to the most cash-strapped rural districts in the state.
Transportation expenses are a major issue for rural schools across the country. A 2014 article by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found that some of Wisconsin’s rural districts received minimal transportation aid while wealthy urban districts received the largest aid amounts possible. In Vermont, a recent report called the state’s smallest schools a “financial drain” partly due to the high transportation costs of rural districts. A report released last year found that rural districts also spend more money on transportation staff members.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rural Education blog.