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HA_SCHOOL_BUS2565.JPGAfter a mid-year budget cut wiped out school bus funds, state lawmakers are pushing a bill to restore transportation money by cutting general purpose dollars in all districts.

The Senate budget committee amended its Senate Bill 81 in the Assembly yesterday, signaling lawmakers' intent not only to preserve school bus service now, but in the future as well. Gov. Jerry Brown proposed eliminating school bus funds permanently in his 2012-13 budget.

Brown has shown little willingness to reverse cuts, especially with the state facing a new $9.2 billion deficit. With that in mind, SB 81 would replace the $248 million school bus cut with an across-the-board reduction to all districts equal to about $42 per student, shifting more of the pain to suburban districts that don't offer much bus service.

The midyear bus cut hit rural and urban districts particularly hard. According to data compiled by the California School Boards Association, the isolated Death Valley Unified School District would lose $1,734 per student. Meanwhile, Davis Joint Unified would lose less than $8 per student and Rocklin Unified less than $10.

The state's coalition of education groups, which includes teachers, school boards and administrators, supports the change. Brown's Department of Finance does not yet have a position, said spokesman H.D. Palmer.

The reduction was triggered in December when fiscal forecasters determined California would fall $2.2 billion short of the optimistic revenue projections that Brown and lawmakers used last June. Since last month, rural school districts have lobbied lawmakers to reverse the bus cut, noting that it would cause uneven hardship throughout the state.

The Los Angeles Unified School District filed a lawsuit to block the bus cut last month, alleging it would violate federal busing mandates and past court decisions ensuring equal education funding across districts. LAUSD would lose $61 per student, according to the CSBA data.

Updated to clarify that the cut would apply to general purpose funding, which largely pays for classroom instruction but also goes toward administration and other costs.

PHOTO CREDIT: Pleasant Grove High School students get off their bus on Friday, Feb. 20, 2009. The Sacramento Bee/ Hector Amezcua



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