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Representative Melissa Hortman (Brooklyn Park/Coon Rapids) recently testified before the Education Finance Committee in support of her bill, HF 643, that would require school districts to provide transportation without charge for a larger number of elementary school students.
District resident Melissa Turnquist, accompanied by her three young daughters, testified in support of the change. Anoka Hennepin Director of Operations Chuck Holden also testified about the bill before the Committee.
Under existing state law, a school district is required to bus only those students who live further than two miles away from their schools. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, even though school districts were not required to by state law, most provided bus service without charge to students living further than one mile away from school.
Recent tight budgets have caused many school districts to eliminate all but the state-mandated bus service. This has resulted in students who live closer than two miles to school to go without school bus service or to have to pay a fee for bus service.
Hortman's bill would change state law to require that school districts provide bus service to all elementary students who live further than one mile from school. Hortman's bill would not affect middle or high school students.
Anoka-Hennepin District 11 is one district that recently changed its transportation policy in response to budget pressures. Holden testified that the District reduced funding for busing in response to a $10.5 million deficit the school district faced in 2002. Before 2002, Anoka-Hennepin provided bus service without charge to all students who lived further than one mile from their schools. After the 2002 budget cuts, the district began charging a fee to provide bus service to kids who live closer than two miles to school. The bus fee is $90 per year for kindergarten students or $175 for others. State law requires free busing further than two miles away, so Anoka-Hennepin continued to provide bus service without charge for those children.
"When I visited with residents of my district through the summer and fall of 2004, many parents expressed concern about the state law," Hortman said. "Parents felt it was unconscionable to have elementary students walking as far as two miles, sometimes along very hazardous roads. They also thought it was unfair that some families have to pay for bus service while others get that service without charge."
Melissa Turnquist is a resident of Brooklyn Park who testified in favor of Hortman's bill. Turnquist's home falls just outside the area of free busing, and her kindergartener was supposed to walk two miles along Highway 252 to get to school, or the family could choose to pay for bus service. "I can't allow my five-year-old to walk that far and we cannot afford to pay the fee on our income." Turnquist appeared with her three young daughters and asked the committee to reconsider the two-mile restriction.
"We know that students on buses are safer," Hortman said.