All Questions, No Answers Amid Budgetary Madness

Despite budget uncertainty for many schools across the country the Centralia School District found a colorful rainbow after the rainfall. Photo by Director of Maintenance, Operations and Transportation Jim Evans from the Centralia School District in Orange County, Ca.

As I sorted through the headlines for inspiration this month, I jumped on only to be greeted by numerous stories on the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Hidden in plain sight beneath these all-important stories on “March Madness” was news on the Trump administration’s federal budget proposal. 

Many opinions are swirling about regarding the proposed increases to private and charter school of choice programs, infrastructure, border security and immigration enforcement, as well as drastic cuts to the State Department and EPA budgets, upward of 30 percent. This has some industry transportation professionals concerned about the future of funding. So, what does that mean for programs like the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act, or DERA?

One student transporter in Utah who I spoke with opined that the DERA grant program aimed at retrofitting older, dirty diesel school buses or replacing them with cleaner models could be in jeopardy. The transportation director said the district has in the past taken advantage of grant funds under the Obama administration. 

The school district had been in the process of securing 10 buses but was told to temporarily put things on hold during the presidential transition. Fortunately, the district was recently given the greenlight to proceed but was advised to do so with haste. One might suggest that this signals the new administration’s move away from a cleaner environmental focus, or at least a desire to tap the brakes to first analyze the program. 

With the pending VW Mitigation Trust Fund money looming, the administration might be looking to earmark those funds to offset environmental needs instead of it adding to the general pool of current funding, especially as Trump released his proposed budget that is looking to cut just about everything except defense, immigration controls and school voucher programs.

But the VW settlement is only a temporary funding solution for those lucky to participate. I’m hearing lots speculation around the industry on this topic, too. 

Meanwhile, President Trump’s proposed budget would pump $1.4 billion into school choice programs, and set aside hundreds of millions of dollars for charter schools and a new private-school choice program. Could this greatly improve funding for school transportation services? Will more public schools be provided any additional funds to access?

The proposed immigration reform could also drastically affect student populations at our schools by reducing school ridership. One transportation professional I spoke with said that there seems to be a lot of concern in his district about children being deported if their families are identified as being in the country illegally. It’s very scary to think this could happen to kids,  but the administration’s stance remains aggressive. 

Presidential budgets, of course, must first be approved by Congress, which seems to be in a continual state of flux every two years. The make up of both House and Senate chambers can quickly change, perhaps significantly, if the American people are unhappy with how things are going. But a budget, in one form or another will be passed this year. Time will tell how it will all trickle down to the schools and impact school transportation, positively or negatively. 

And we have yet to discuss possible ramifications of a repeal and replace of the Affordable Care Act? Might this work to the advantage of school budgets yet strip some employees of benefits?

There is no shortage of important issues for the industry to think about.


Reprinted from the April 2017 issue of School Transportation News magazine.