For Release: November 19, 2020
Education Leaders Call for State to Keep Faith with School Districts on Transportation Reimbursement
ALBANY— The Educational Conference Board, a coalition of parents, teachers, other school staff, administrators, and board members, today called upon state government to assure school districts receive aid toward the extraordinary transportation costs they incurred last spring.
ECB Chair John Yagielski explained, “After school buildings were closed last March, many districts used their school buses to deliver and pick up instructional materials, to distribute student meals, and to create mobile hotspots in neighborhoods with poor internet access. Many also paid their transportation staff or contractors to be on stand-by in case it did become possible to reopen their schools. But two weeks ago, the state advised school district leaders that those costs are not eligible for reimbursement through Transportation Aid.”
Yagielski added, “School districts took on extraordinary transportation costs because they were required to do so by an Executive Order issued by Governor Cuomo. It was also the right thing to do—to make sure students and families could continue to receive critical services. It would be a breach of faith now for the state to deny aid to school districts when they did what was asked of them.”
Yagielski noted that at this time there are no estimates of impact of the state’s determination, but the unreimbursed costs for districts are likely to amount to several hundred million dollars.
Prior to the closing of schools, Transportation Aid was projected to total $2.1 billion statewide. The state’s ruling essentially means that school districts might receive no Transportation Aid for about one-third of the school year, despite the costs they took on.
On November 6, the State Education Department issued a memorandum advising school district officials that state law does not authorize reimbursement for the transportation expenses described above.
The memorandum also said that the Board of Regents will advance “…proposals to amend the Education Law to allow school districts to be reimbursed for costs incurred to keep transportation vendors and employees on standby between March 18, 2020 and May 1, 2020, for costs associated with the use of school buses to deliver school meals, homework packets and wi-fi access during periods of school closure, and for costs incurred to maintain the infrastructure necessary to have transportation services available to support in-person education.”
ECB Chair John Yagielski said, “We welcome the Department’s initiative. We believe that reimbursement should also be available for the entire school year—past May 1—because the federal CARES Act included a requirement for recipients of federal stimulus aid to continue to pay employees and contractors ‘to the greatest extent practicable’ during any disruptions or closures related to the pandemic.”
May 1 was the date that Governor Cuomo directed that school buildings remain closed through the end of the 2019-20 school year.
The Educational Conference Board also sent a memorandum to state legislators this week requesting action to assure districts can receive aid for the exceptional transportation costs they have incurred in responding to the pandemic.
“When school buildings shut down in the spring, curtailing critical services that schools provide New York children wasn’t an option," said NYSUT President Andy Pallotta. "Not only did school districts do the right thing by delivering meals and educational resources to students who needed them, they were directed to continue providing the same level of care for students — which makes the state’s withholding of reimbursements for those transportation services all the more unreasonable. This situation demonstrates yet again the need for leaders to enact new revenues to address the budget gap the state faces and ensure that schools are not penalized for doing everything in their power to take care of children during this pandemic.”