WHEREAS reasonable access to education is a component critical in providing a high quality of life for rural families;
WHEREAS access to education is a right guaranteed for all children by Section 23 of Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms;
WHEREAS accessing this right for rural students requires the transportation to and from schools within a reasonable ride time;
WHEREAS the current rural transportation funding formula results in many rural public school students riding a bus for excessive times each day;
WHEREAS requirements for a balanced budget often means that deficits in transportation may be offset by a reduction in spending in the classroom;
WHEREAS in jurisdictions with sparse population densities, the per student cost of transportation exceeds that of more heavily populated jurisdictions;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the AAMDC encourage the province to revisit the school bussing transportation formula to ensure an equitable distribution of transportation funding between jurisdictions.
As educational transportation funding becomes increasingly tight, rural school divisions must either increase revenues or decrease expenditures. Increasing revenues can only mean transportation fees charged to parents. Decreasing expenditures usually requires larger buses picking up more students or route consolidation. Both of these alternatives result in increased ride times for students.
The current rural transportation funding model is based on a grid placement based on weighted passengers and school division area density that places a school division in a funding cell. The principle of “as density increases, fewer dollars are required for transportation” is applied. Increments across the grid are inconsistent and issues surround the calculation of density. The last time a major review of the rural transportation allocation grid was over a decade ago.
The Milne Report (2005) questions the equity of the current density grid used for the funding formula, and recommends a review of the grid as, in its words, “One may conclude (with apologies to George Orwell) that all rural school boards are funded equitably under the Rural Transportation funding formula, but some boards are more equitably funded than others.”
Some comments from rural school divisions with respect to the transportation funding are as follows:
In some jurisdictions with very high density, excess transportation funding is being used to subsidize other needs, whereas in jurisdictions with low densities, funding is being withdrawn from other areas of school operations and being utilized to subsidize transportation costs.
The AAMDC has no active resolutions related to this issue.
Each rural school jurisdiction receives part of its rural transportation funding based on a density grid, which is published annually in the Funding Manual for School Authorities (example from 2011/2012 manual attached). This density rate is multiplied by the jurisdiction’s total number of eligible passengers/eligible transported Early Childhood Services children to determine how much funding it will receive. Typically, this funding comprises more than 70 per cent of the jurisdiction’s transportation funding.
Funding calculations adjust for the density of each district and the actual bus route distance travelled by passengers. Rural funding includes:
Over the last five years, transportation funding has increased from $230 million in 2006/07 to $260 million in 2011/12 – an increase of $30 million, or 13 per cent.
In 2010 and under Budget 2011, Education increased funding to the rural density grid by two per cent each year, thus reinvesting a total of $4 million in rural student transportation to account for declining student enrolment in rural areas of the province.
Government values Alberta’s small and rural communities, and the Ministry of Education is committed to helping school boards deliver programs in these areas.
Education is aware that it is challenging for rural boards with sparse populations to provide student transportation services, so the rural transportation formula includes density grid rates, which were enhanced this year. Education is also aware that keeping schools open in sparsely populated rural areas is difficult, so additional funding is provided through the Small Schools by Necessity allocation.
Education believes that local school jurisdictions are best equipped to determine transportation policies and procedures. Because each jurisdiction serves a unique student population, community and area of the province, Education does not determine specific provincial student ride time guidelines.
There is no doubt that the trend of urbanization in Alberta is creating challenges for some rural jurisdictions. Education recognizes that the funding model for small rural boards may need to be reviewed in the near future.
The AAMDC accepts in principle the response to this resolution as it acknowledges a review of funding models for small rural boards might be in order. It further recognizes the challenges associated with urbanization. The AAMDC will continue to advocate for a funding review through formal ministerial meetings.