Adequacy Gap, Equity Failure: Kentucky’s School Transportation Funding

by | Nov 27, 2018

Transportation funding is not the biggest injustice in Kentucky school finance, but it is probably the easiest one to prove. Here comes a short demonstration of how last year’s funding was $225 less per pupil than needed, with the impact on individual students ranging from over $300 to under $100 depending on where those students lived.

TRANSPORTATION FUNDING IS NOT ADEQUATE
$360.4 million was the cost to transport all bus riders during the 2017-2018 school year.

$225.5 million of that cost was met by state funding.

$134.9 million was, therefore, the amount by which Kentucky transportation funding was inadequate.

Often, there is room for big debate about what amount will provide adequate funding, but in this case, the proof is much simpler. For transportation, the General Assembly itself set the formula for deciding what is needed, and the $360.4 million cost was calculated by the Department of Education those exact rules. The $225.5 million is straight from the General Assembly’s budget legislation for the 2016-2018 biennium, and that means the $134.9 million is simple subtractions to prove the student need that went unmet.

TRANSPORTATION FUNDING IS NOT EQUITABLE
The unfunded $134.9 million could have meant a gap of $225 per pupil all across the state, but it wasn’t handled that way. Instead, the losses varied dramatically depending on where students lived.

$300 or more per pupil was denied to students in 15 Kentucky districts, all of them rural counties.

$100 or less was denied to students in 16 districts, all of them independent districts named for their cities and towns.

In between, $200 to $299 was denied to students in 105 additional districts, and $100 to $199 was denied to students in 37 districts.

Below is a look at the districts that lost the most and the least money per student, and the impact on every district statewide can be seen in this short report.

A BIT MORE EXPLANATION
Why are there differences? The more rural the district and the more spread out the students, the more transportation costs. When the department hands out the cuts, it takes the same percentage from each district’s need. That means that the more a district needs, the more they take away.

Why doesn’t the Department take the same amount for each student? State law says to hand out the cuts on a “pro rata” basis and the Department interprets that to mean the same percent (and therefore different dollar amounts) from each district.

Why isn’t taking more from those who need more unconstitutional? There isn’t a good answer there. On the facts above, the method violates the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution and the requirements of Rose v. Council for Better Education. Accordingly, it looks like the Department would be acting lawfully as well as justly if it made the same cut per pupil to every district. Of course, the General Assembly has the ultimate responsibility here, and they would be acting lawfully as well as fairly if they provided the adequate funding required by its own formula. Short of that, the legislature could fix the inequity by directing the Department to make the cuts match per pupil rather than by the current pro rata method.

THE BOTTOM LINE
Kentucky transportation funding is not adequate or equitable, and both failings are easy to demonstrate. For districts faced with these shortfalls, there is no option of not providing transportation, so these funding gaps are likely handled by spending less on books and other learning materials or less on teachers and other staff. Kentucky needs to do better.

MORE INFORMATION
This short Prichard report shows the funded and unfunded transportation costs for each district. All the numbers used here come from the Department of Education’s final 2017-18 SEEK files, with each district’s needed 2017-18 funding shown as “Un-prorated Transportation” in the Data file and the funding actually received shown as the “Adjust for Transportation” in the Summary file.

ABOUT THE PRICHARD COMMITTEE

Since 1983, the Prichard Committee has worked to study priority issues, inform the public and policy makers about best practices and engage citizens, business leaders, families, students, and other stakeholders in a shared mission to move Kentucky to the top tier of all states for education excellence and equity for all children, from their earliest years through postsecondary education.

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