FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Legislation allowing school districts to expand fleets transporting students to school and home was promoted Monday as a way to fix bus systems hampered by long routes and too few bus drivers.
Democratic Sen. David Yates, the bill’s lead sponsor in the Republican-led Senate, said improving student transportation is a nonpartisan issue. The bill has been sent to a Senate committee and its supporters tried giving it a boost, saying it would benefit urban and rural districts in the Bluegrass State.
“We know the transportation system in Kentucky right now is strained,” Yates said at a news conference. “This is a way to help alleviate that strain and make it a little bit safer for our children, more cost efficient and faster.”
The bill would allow district-owned and district-leased vehicles to transport students to and from school as well as for approved school activities under an alternative transportation plan approved by the state education department. Those vehicles could include vans and other smaller vehicles. The goal is to reduce the time students spend on a school bus each day.
Safety standards would be developed for such vehicles and the drivers would have to meet training requirements. Drivers would undergo criminal background checks and reviews of their driving records.
The expanded fleets would lead to greater efficiencies in districts across the state, Yates said. In urban areas, the bill would result in more efficient and safer routes as well as alternate routes for specialized schools. In rural areas, the smaller vehicles could be used on less populated routes.
“This legislation is about ensuring that every child, no matter their zip code, has access to safe, efficient and cost-effective transportation to and from school,” Democratic Sen. Robin Webb, who has been working with Yates on the legislation, said in a news release.
Jefferson County Public Schools, the state’s most populous district, suffered a meltdown of its bus schedule at the start of the school term last August. The superintendent called it a “transportation disaster” and apologized to the Louisville district’s 96,000 students along with their families, the bus drivers and the school officials who had to stay with students for hours as they waited on buses to arrive. The district made fixes to the system but has grappled with a bus driver shortage for years.
Yates, a Louisville lawmaker, said Monday he has been working on the legislation since then. He said the legislation would provide flexibility to help the Jefferson County district as well as rural districts.