H.4389 – Privatization of school buses

This bill would privatize the state’s school bus fleet. Under current law, school bus transportation is controlled by the State Board of Education and funded by the state. This bill would delegate student transportation responsibility to the local school districts, who could either fund and manage their own school bus fleet or outsource student transportation to a private company. The state’s school buses and maintenance facilities would be sold or leased and the funds (along with any other state funds that would have gone to student transportation) periodically distributed to the school districts to reimburse them for student transportation costs.

While the concept of outsourcing transportation to the private sector is a sound one, there are some areas of concern in this bill.

First, companies would be required to purchase all of the locally-used school buses in order to obtain a student transportation contract in a local district. After the purchase, however, any buses below a certain standard could not be used. This would force private companies to buy substandard equipment and facilities rather than simply chalking them up as a loss to the state.

Another concern is the reimbursement to local school districts approach. Lawmakers routinely fail to fully fund the Local Government Fund, although obligated to do so by state law. If the General Assembly approached a statutory transportation reimbursement in the same manner, student transportation would become a burdensome unfunded mandate.

Finally, the bill does little or nothing to lift the broad state mandates and regulations for student transportation, and instead applies them to any private companies that contract with local school districts. This heavy top-down one-size-fits-all approach is inconsistent with market innovation and the many benefits it can create – one of the primary benefits of school bus privatization.

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