Bevin’s proposal to cut bus funding should be rejected

It has been clear for many years that our state is in dire financial straits in many areas and that cuts must be made during this legislative session.

There is no other option. Cuts must be made during this session and – barring changes in our tax code – we can expect more cuts in future sessions. We agree with Gov. Matt Bevin that there are some areas in government that will have to be cut. On Tuesday, Bevin delivered his State of the Commonwealth speech and released his two-year budget proposal. In it, he laid out his suggestions for making cuts in more than 70 areas of government and talked about pension reform and ways to save money. We believe some of Bevin’s ideas are good ideas, while others demand discussion and debate in the legislature during the ongoing session.

One area in which we respectfully disagree with Bevin is his proposal to dramatically slash funding to public school transportation. Bevin’s proposal would cut more than $138 million from this vital area. Right now, the state covers, on average, 58 percent of what local districts spend on school buses. Bevin wants to lower that to 25 percent, leaving districts to make up the difference. Bevin says the money can come from the school districts’ savings accounts, which collectively contain more than $1 billion across the state. His proposal would also require districts to cut administrative costs by 12 percent.

Bevin argued that, “We have far too many people that are not teaching our students, that are sucking up the dollars intended … for our students. We’re going to expect the local school districts to contribute to transportation more than they have in the past.”

Kentucky law requires the state to reimburse school districts for transportation costs. In the 1990s, the state covered 100 percent. But as budgets have tightened, that number has dwindled to 58 percent in the most recently enacted budget. Part of the problem is severely underfunded teacher pensions. Bevin’s plan would spend $2.3 billion over the next two years just to keep the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System solvent.

We know cuts must be made, but we don’t think transportation is an area where cuts this deep should occur, since too many children and their families depend on public school transportation.

Tom Shelton, executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, said forcing school districts to cover 75 percent of their transportation costs is the equivalent of cutting funding by $211 per student. This is problematic for poorer school districts, whose reserve funds can be limited.

In Boone County, Superintendent Randy Poe said he would have to divert money from the classroom to pay for that.

“If those cuts are enacted, it’s going to affect the classroom. There is no way not to affect the classroom and make cuts,” Poe said. “It would be a devastation.”

If this is in fact true, then it’s all the more reason not to cut funding to public school transportation. We cannot allow students in the classroom to suffer because cuts are needed.

Perhaps Bevin is simply throwing this proposal out in an effort to start a dialogue and inspire lawmakers to find a better solution. That is our hope, anyway. If Bevin is sincere in his proposal to slash transportation funding, we hope the legislature pushes back. This is one area that we believe should be left alone.

Bowling Green Daily News