Since 2005, Ohioans have enjoyed a 21 percent reduction in individual income tax rates. The Ohio House has proposed an additional 7 percent reduction in its state budget plan. Gov. John Kasich wants even greater relief. Yet the state fails to fund adequately something as basic to public education as transportation for students.
The shortfall in transportation funding was made clear over the weekend in the reporting of Dave Scott and Doug Livingston, two Beacon Journal staff writers. The funding has been limited below the established formula or held flat for the past four years. Add the factor of public schools having the job of transporting charter students and private students, and a district like the Akron Public Schools finds itself in a severe budget squeeze.
The district devotes precious resources to busing students who do not attend its schools. The result is, fewer dollars routed into Akron classrooms. More, too few Akron students receive transportation. To save money, the district has scaled back its busing to the state minimum. All students within two miles of school must get there on their own.
Putting the district in such a jam is shortsighted, or contrary to words often uttered at the Statehouse about the importance of education. A student cannot learn unless he or she gets to the classroom. Yet the state has made the task of going to school more difficult — in the very districts where the challenges already are steep. As Doug Livingston pointed out, the districts with limited busing have students who are twice as likely to be of color, almost as often economically disadvantaged, and 17 times more likely to drop out.
Since 2009, the state has failed to put up money for the purchase of school buses. The fleet now averages 10 years old, a typical bus lasing 12 years to 15 years. The postponement merely ensures higher maintenance and replacement costs.
The House budget plan would extend the misguided thinking. For some students, district busing is deemed impractical, and parents receive a payment in lieu of transportation. The House, with little, if any, discussion, has proposed increasing the payment from $233 to $803, a projected expense of $13 million statewide. It also would ease the qualifications, no doubt opening the door to more payments and increasing the overall cost.
To their credit, state senators, Republicans and Democrats, already have spotted the trouble brewing in a higher payment. They also have expressed concerns about the larger problem of falling short in funding school transportation. The hope is, the state Senate will direct new resources for transportation to needy districts. This matter is about nothing less than opportunity. Get students to school in a reliable way, and they are more likely to succeed in the classroom and in life.