In the months leading up to the 2015 General Assembly, we are highlighting education topics that may be considered during the session (read our last post on charter school facilities funding). This week, we’re releasing a policy brief examining transportation funding in Arkansas.
In September, the Joint House and Senate Education Committee heard from Picus Odden & Associates on Arkansas’ school funding matrix. (See the Picus Odden & Associates report here.) During the report, Picus Odden & Associates recommended that the state change how it allocates transportation funding to districts to account for variation in district spending on transportation.
Currently, local, state, and federal funding is spent on transportation. The state distributes funding to districts for transportation as a part of the unrestricted foundation formula, as transportation funding is a line item in the matrix. Picus Odden & Associates recommended that the state change how it allocates transportation funding due to the following reasons:
- In 2012-13, the foundation formula accounted of $309.90 per pupil for transportation funding; however, on average, districts spent $452.06 per pupil. 
- There are large discrepancies in per pupil spending on transportation among districts in any given year. For example, in 2012-13, Hillcrest School District spent $1,277 per pupil on transportation costs, while the West Memphis School District spent $147 per pupil on transportation costs.
Today, we are releasing a policy brief to dig into the issues with the current funding structure for school transportation. In doing so, we explain how other states account for variation in transportation costs. For example, in Arizona, transportation funding is allocated to districts with a density formula based on the average daily route mileage per eligible pupil transported.
Additionally, the policy brief discusses transportation funding for charter schools. In 2012-13, three open-enrollment charter schools did not spend any money on transportation, while other charter schools spent just as much as the average traditional school district. We have noticed that transportation has become an issue in a number of charter hearings or renewal hearings in the past couple of years. Representatives from some charter schools have stated that they would like to attract a more diverse student body (racially and socio-economically), but the lack of additional funding for transportation made it difficult to serve this population, who typically rely on school-provided transportation to get to school. While charters receive the same amount of funding for transportation as traditional school districts do (through the foundation formula), we see that charter schools have lower levels of total revenue than their traditional district counterparts overall. (Read our recent blog post and policy brief on this issue here.)
In the months and years to come, we believe that it will be important for Arkansas policymakers and education officials to determine whether the state has a fair system to fund school transportation for Arkansas’ school districts. To do so, it will be important to consider how other states fund school transportation and account for variation in spending among districts. We hope our policy brief adds to this discussion!
Other resources that examine transportation funding in Arkansas:
- The Bureau of Legislative Research’s presentation on the history of transportation funding in Arkansas and a look at how to change the funding structure.
- The Bureau of Legislative Research’s 2014 Interim Study on Educational Adequacy, which examines transportation funding in the state.
 Spending data from the Annual Statistical Report. Per pupil data based on enrollment figures in the stated year to best approximate how much money is spent per pupil in each year (We find slightly different figures from the Bureau of Legislative Research reports because we include all spending on transportation based on enrollment numbers.)