Dennis Meyers headshot
csba at issue
By Dennis Meyers
The bus stops here
CSBA advocacy drives funding toward home-to-school transportation

his year’s state budget was a historic moment in many ways. For CSBA, the reversal of 40 years of disinvestment in California’s home-to-school transportation program represents one of the sweetest victories in recent memory.

School transportation has long been a priority for CSBA, and on multiple occasions, the association has sponsored and secured passage of legislation to provide additional funding — only to see the bills vetoed. But this year was different. With an unprecedented budget surplus, we saw the opportunity to change California’s worst-in-the-nation status for home-to-school transportation, and we seized it.

Many said it couldn’t be done, but alongside our partners at the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA), CSBA’s fierce advocacy — which included many local meetings with legislators initiated by our own members — delivered a budget that will provide millions more California students the chance to ride a bus to school. Here’s how it happened.

Young kid boarding school bus and highfiving driver

Foundation laid

Young kid boarding school bus and highfiving driver
Building off our long-term advocacy, CSBA’s Governmental Relations team laid the foundation for this transportation win early on. CSBA began conversations with Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leadership in fall 2021, kicking off our formal advocacy with a letter highlighting CSBA’s budget priorities, including the pressing need for full funding and an annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for home-to-school transportation.

CSBA staff continued outreach efforts in the leadup to the Governor’s budget proposal in the new year, which — while a promising start — did not address the need for action on transportation. And in late January, Budget Committee Chair Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) introduced Senate Bill 878, which proposed an unacceptable mandate that districts offer transportation to all students living outside of walking distance and establishing a flat per-mile reimbursement rate for the transportation program.

While we applauded the Senator’s work to highlight the critical issues in funding for school transportation, we knew the bill’s mandate and funding structure failed to recognize local circumstances, the need to build local capacity and infrastructure, and the ongoing labor shortages and cost pressures. Ultimately, the bill created more challenges than solutions for school transportation.

CSBA’s Legislative Committee took an Oppose position while staff continued to work with Senator Skinner and lobby key decision-makers throughout early 2022, building the case for a major investment with the Newsom Administration and the Legislature and laying the foundation for CSBA members to spring into action in March.

CSBA members make the case at Legislative Action Week

More than 370 school board members came together during CSBA’s virtual Legislative Action Week in March, meeting with over 100 state legislators and their staff. Armed with advocacy training from CSBA, attendees educated their Senators and Assemblymembers on the top issues facing their schools and students — including the critically low levels of funding for home-to-school transportation and the need for solutions, not mandates.

Members from all over California shared how the lack of funding has directly impacted their students: how they have been forced to divert resources out of the classroom and away from vital student services or limit busing only to students with special needs, and how some have reluctantly turned to sharing the cost of transportation services with parents. Those from small and rural districts spoke on the outsized costs of long bus routes necessary to transport students across wide distances and difficult terrain, and how recruiting drivers was an ongoing challenge worsened by the pandemic.

Legislators heard from hundreds of our members that, while they believed a mandate was the wrong approach, districts across the state were extremely eager to provide their students with the benefits of a robust home-to-school transportation program and, given adequate funding, would jump at the chance to provide one.

Assembly Education Committee Chair Patrick O’Donnell at press conference in front of school bus and kids

Keeping up the momentum

CSBA partnered with Assembly Education Committee Chair Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach) to offer real solutions for schools and students with Assembly Bill 2933, which proposed reimbursing 100 percent of approved costs for providing home-to-school transportation services with a funding formula that reflects regional cost variations and individual district circumstances, including a critically important COLA.

The transportation mandate was included in the legislative budget plan released in early June, and with the issue unaddressed in the Governor’s May Budget Revision or the initial budget bill passed in mid-June, we knew it would be a key bargaining chip between the Legislature and the Governor.

Closing the deal

CSBA kept this pivotal issue at the forefront in late May and June. We held a press event with Assemblymember O’Donnell, calling public attention to the shameful state of transportation funding and the solutions proposed in AB 2933, and ran editorials in statewide and regional media outlets, culminating in a lengthy article in the Los Angeles Times highlighting the historical disinvestment in California’s school transportation program.

Board members statewide kept the pressure on Gov. Newsom and the Legislature through CSBA’s online advocacy tool, sending nearly 1,300 emails pushing for a final budget deal that would give schools the funding they need without an unsustainable mandate.

Fierce advocacy pays off for schools

In the end, the persistent advocacy by CSBA, our members and our allies yielded a historic triumph that will be a gamechanger for schools statewide. The final budget more than doubled the state’s current contribution for school transportation, starting in the coming school year, with an annual COLA to ensure sustainable long-term funding.

All told, funding for home-to-school transportation increased by $637 million in ongoing Proposition 98 funding. This foundational win provides districts an unprecedented opportunity to give millions of students the benefits of school busing — from improved attendance to better access to programs and services and less pollution and traffic. After many years of disinvestment, CSBA’s fierce and dedicated advocacy overcame skepticism and resistance to secure a win that will improve the lives of students across California for years to come.

Dennis Meyers is CSBA’s Assistant Executive Director, Governmental Relations