On November 25, 2020, Governor Tom Wolf signed into law Senate Bill 1216, now Act 136.
Act 136 amends the Public-School Code, including provisions related to the COVID-19 pandemic and amendments regarding Keystone exams, teacher preparation programs, emergency substitute permits, NIMS/NOCTI Exams, educator evaluations, paraprofessional staff development, 2020-21 testing waivers, non-public transportation, transportation funding, special education funding commission, and unused tax credits.
Act 136 delivers two costly messages for public schools on student transportation. School Districts must continue to pay transportation vendors a portion of their costs even if they are not transporting students, and districts must provide transportation to non-public schools whether or not they are transporting their own public school students.
Specifically, Act 136 amends the Public-School Code to provide some clarity on student transportation payments to be made during the 2020-2021 fiscal year. The language reads that as a result of the COVID-19 Disaster Emergency, “a school entity shall receive a pupil transportation subsidy payment equal to the greater of the amount calculated for reimbursement or the amount allocated to the school entity for the prior school year.”
Essentially, a school entity will receive either this year’s formula data using the normal process, or what was allocated for this fiscal year (2020-2021), whichever is greater.
Additionally, Act 136 states in order for a school entity to receive the latter, i.e. what was allocated for this fiscal year, “a school entity that contracts for school bus transportation services shall pay the school bus transportation contractor for the school year in an amount that the school bus transportation contractor would have received from the school entity had their services not been so affected by the COVID-19 disaster emergency, minus the amount of any variable costs provided the school bus transportation contractor certifies the variable costs to the school district.”
In other words, in order to receive what was allocated for this fiscal year, the school must continue to pay school bus transportation contractors, even where transportation is not provided. The amount to be paid to the school bus transportation contractors is then calculated based on what they would have received if the pandemic did not occur minus any variable costs.
While Act 136 does define the term “variable costs” to mean “the difference between costs for labor, fuel, tolls, maintenance and other expenses as determined by PDE during normal operations of school bus transportation and those same costs during the COVID-19 disaster emergency,” Act 136 also provides that these variable costs are defined and determined by PDE with guidance from PASBO, PSBA, and the PA School Bus Association. This guidance will be provided within 30 days of the effective date and the school bus contractor must certify the amount of the variable cost reduction to the school entities.
For the 2020-2021 school year, districts are now required to provide non-public school transportation on the dates that non-public are officially in session, regardless of whether transportation is provided to districts on those dates. Previously, the School Code provided only that districts make provisions for non-public transportation “identical” to transportation provided to district students. It is important to note, however, these requirements apply only to those districts who provided transportation to non-public student in 2019-2020 school year.
COVID-19 has created a world of uncertainty and changes to standard protocols. Duties and requirements for school administrations may start to seem intricate or complicated, so please contact your legal counsel or one KingSpry’s attorneys for more information and guidance on this change in policy.
If you have a question, please contact your legal counsel or one of the Education attorneys at KingSpry.
School Law Bullets are a publication of KingSpry’s Education Law Practice Group. This article is meant to be informational and does not constitute legal advice.