ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Jason Gaulden is the Common Sense Institute Education Fellow. He has spent the last 25 years working at the intersection of the business and nonprofit sectors, with a particular focus on education innovation. He is a partner at Oak Rose Group, a consulting firm specializing in education, workforce development, and economic mobility.
Erik Gamm is a Research Analyst with Common Sense Institute. Erik joined CSI in 2020 after graduating from the University of Michigan with a BA in Economics.
ABOUT COMMON SENSE INSTITUTE
Common Sense Institute is a non-partisan research organization dedicated to the protection and promotion of Colorado’s economy. CSI is at the forefront of important discussions concerning the future of free enterprise in Colorado and aims to have an impact on the issues that matter most to Coloradans.
CSI’s mission is to examine the fiscal impacts of policies, initiatives, and proposed laws so that Coloradans are educated and informed on issues impacting their lives. CSI employs rigorous research techniques and dynamic modeling to evaluate the potential impact of these measures on the Colorado economy and individual opportunity.
Common Sense Institute was founded in 2010 originally as Common Sense Policy Roundtable. CSI’s founders were a concerned group of business and community leaders who observed that divisive partisanship was overwhelming policymaking and believed that sound economic analysis could help Coloradans make fact-based and common sense decisions.
TEAMS & FELLOWS STATEMENT
CSI is committed to independent, in-depth research that examines the impacts of policies, initiatives, and proposed laws so that Coloradans are educated and informed on issues impacting their lives. CSI’s commitment to institutional independence is rooted in the individual independence of our researchers, economists, and fellows.
At the core of CSI’s mission is a belief in the power of the free enterprise system. Our work explores ideas that protect and promote jobs and the economy, and the CSI team and fellows take part in this pursuit with academic freedom. Our team’s work is driven by data-driven research and evidence. The views and opinions of fellows do not reflect institutional views of CSI. CSI operates independently of any political party and does not take positions.
The state of Colorado reimbursed $62 million to K–12 school districts for transportation costs last school year. This was just 21% of the $290 million it cost districts to get students to and from school (See Figure 1 below). Some districts are working hard to modernize and streamline their services, but school transportation today does not look significantly different than it did 50 years ago. It’s hard to innovate when funding is so severely limited, and because the state plays no role in equalizing transportation funding based on need.
While districts are trying to evolve and offer efficient transportation by using modern technologies like GPS and web-connected tablets, much of what they do provide is of the blunt-instrument variety: running large-capacity school buses on routes based on how many eligible students live in a given area.
Interestingly, in Colorado, school districts are not obligated to provide transportation; they choose to.[i] Districts spent $290 million on school transportation in 2022, to serve the 317,000 students who are eligible for district-provided transportation. Those are primarily students who live outside of the school walk-zone, which is determined by each district. In Denver, for example, to be eligible for district provided transportation, students in kindergarten through grade five must reside more than one mile from their boundary schools; students in grade 6–8 must reside more than 2.5 miles from their boundary schools, and students in grades 9–12 must reside more than 3.5 miles from their boundary schools.[ii]
The amount of time and resources districts invest in their transportation operations is a clear sign of the important role it plays in meeting the educational needs of students.
While there are significant insurance, liability and cost challenges to surmount, districts could do more to explore alternative transportation services provided by private companies and nonprofits. Districts use these services to transport some students with disabilities who, for various reasons, cannot ride traditional school buses. The state could fund pilot programs that reward creative problem-solving, test new transportation ideas, study impacts, and scale what works best to serve more students.
Driver shortages will continue to plague district transportation services unless and until schools can pay wages that compete with the private sector and transit systems like the Denver area’s Regional Transportation District (RTD). Another problem is that onerous federal regulations have made it more difficult for people to obtain the Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) required to operate a school bus. There is no rational reason that short-haul school bus drivers should be subject to the same regulations and health screenings as long-haul truckers. Unfortunately, fixing this would require a federal policy change, which seems unlikely in the current political environment. The driver shortage forces districts to cut routes, making yellow-bus transportation less attractive for students and families because ride times increase, and stops are often more distant from homes.
In this report, we analyze available state data on education transportation, and we use specific districts to illustrate what statewide trends look like at the local level. Denver Public Schools is the state’s most populous school district and provides urban context. Jefferson County School District (Jeffco) represents a suburban school district with a sprawling geography that includes densely and sparsely populated areas. Finally, Roaring Forks School District illustrates some of the unique issues faced by rural communities. At the end of this report are tables with more detailed data for each of Colorado’s school districts.
What We Know – Statewide Data Trends:
- The state of Colorado reimbursed $62 million to its 178 school districts in 2022, or 21% of what it cost districts to get students to school.
- Districts are heavily reliant on the traditional large, yellow buses to provide transportation to students; alternative modes meet a very small part of the demand.
- State spending on transportation has gone down over the past decade in real dollars. Inflation-adjusted state reimbursement spending on district transportation has declined by 7.6% over the past 5 years and 8.5% over the past 10 years.
- At the same time, miles driven transporting students to and from schools has decreased by 21% over that same 10-year period. The number of students eligible for transportation has also dropped, albeit more slowly—by 8%—since 2012.
- Statewide data shows significant spending per student to cover transportation costs. Operating expenditures per eligible student show an average cost of $917 per student in fiscal year 2022.
- Statewide, there has been a modest decline over the past several years of the percentage of district transportation costs reimbursed by the state. In 2017, the state reimbursed at a rate of 23.9%. In 2022, the reimbursement rate was 21.3%.
- Miles driven per eligible student had been declining gradually before COVID-19 hit (from 154.7 in 2012 to 139.7 in 2019), dropped dramatically for two years, and began to recover in 2022 (132.9).
- Total inflation-adjusted district transportation operating expenditures per mile rose by 18% between 2009 and 2019 (from $5.15 to $6.06 per mile). Real expenditures surged during COVID-19 to $8.29 per mile in 2021 and began to ease back down this year to $6.90 (See Figure 3 below).
What We Don’t Know – Key Data Needs:
- Eligibility: What factors are used to define the eligibility of students to whom districts provide transportation and are they comparable across districts? How do walk zones impact access to different schools?
- Utilization/Ridership: Of the eligible students, how many utilize district-provided transportation services? How efficient are existing routes and what is the capacity of bus fleet compared to actual daily ridership?
- Staffing Levels: What is the annual number of drivers needed to cover the district’s estimated route miles, and how many drivers were actually employed to meet that need? How many miles within each district are contracted to third-party services compared to district employees?
- Fleet Diversification: To what degree are districts using alternative modes of transportation other than traditional yellow buses?
- Service Gaps: Why is there such a pronounced gap between the number of eligible students and the number of students who actually utilize district-provided transportation? Is it due to route stops or times, changing family preferences over the course of the school year, or other reasons? How many more students would utilize transportation if access improved and what could state funding do to improve access?
Recommendations for the State:
- The Colorado Department of Education should be directed to collect from districts, and make available to the public, information on transportation eligibility standards, ridership, costs for each mode of provided transportation, and staffing levels. The collection and analysis of this data should be used to identify inefficiencies and disparities, and to inform improvements and innovations. This data could also be used to reimburse districts more accurately for their costs, rather than reliance on single count date.
- With a robust understanding of the data, policymakers can assess if there are better ways to fund transportation and at what levels. The current transportation funding method relies on annual categorical funding rather than inclusion in the school funding formula—is that the best approach?
- CDE should also pursue ways to reduce the regulatory burden on school districts by streamlining transportation reimbursement processes.
- The legislature should designate dollars to establish a Transportation Innovation Fund. The fund would be used to incentivize community-specific problem-solving, pilot and study alternatives to outdated transportation models, and implement and scale solutions that have positive impacts and potential broader applications. Modes of transportation beyond the traditional school bus—like contracting with private companies, rideshare services, public transportation, carpooling, and even electric scooters—are worthy considerations for districts working to modernize their respective transportation portfolios.
- Driver shortages, caused by a complex host of factors, will continue to be a huge barrier to efficient transportation. The state could help ameliorate this problem by advocating changes to adverse federal policies that place unnecessarily onerous restrictions on driver eligibility. The state’s elected federal officeholders should push for national changes to CDL requirements that have made driver recruitment more challenging.
Recommendations for School Districts:
- Labor unions sometimes exacerbate the driver shortage problem by resisting innovative bonus and incentive programs which help attract and retain drivers. Districts must push hard to negotiate sensible contracts that allow maximum flexibility.
- Districts should pursue opportunities to collaborate and partner with neighboring districts. This could result in mutually beneficial cost-sharing of transportation resources and help students who may want to attend schools in neighboring districts get rides to those schools.
- Finally, districts should invest in building their own robust and reliable talent pipelines by providing their students with education and training programs that lead to fulfilling, well-paying careers in transportation and logistics.
The Colorado Department of Education (CDE) is required to collect only enough data on school transportation to calculate reimbursements to school districts. Every September, districts must complete a cumbersome form known as the CDE-40, detailing their previous school year’s operating expenditures on transportation, the number of route miles scheduled on a specific count day in October, and the number of days that school year on which students were transported. Although CDE releases these data from the CDE-40 form, the department is not directed to collect other, more meaningful data about school transportation costs and student ridership in Colorado.
This lack of meaningful data makes any kind of systematic analysis difficult at best. Individual districts collect different types of data, including actual ridership, for internal use, but there is no standardized method of data collection, no categories universally used, and no central repository for this district data.
For example, in many districts, operating expenses have increased over the last decade even as miles and eligibility have declined. Denver is a case in point: in real dollars, Denver’s operating expenses have doubled while miles have decreased by 21% and eligibility has declined by 9%. Why is this the case? The answer has implications on resource allocation, student access and equity, transparency and accountability, and good governance. Until we have that information, though, we cannot answer important questions like this.
We believe the state should take a greater interest in knowing how eligibility standards are set at the district level, what the effective impacts are across districts, to what degree eligible students are being served, and why there is such a pronounced gap between eligible students and ridership. Additionally, insights into any alternatives to yellow buses would allow for the development, testing, and scaling of new transportation models.
Collecting and disseminating such data would benefit policymakers and the general public alike. It’s difficult for lawmakers and public policy professionals to consider improvements to and innovations in education transportation when there is such little reliable data on current utilization and effectiveness or, for that matter, the true costs of providing transportation to all students who want and need it.
Given these realities, we have done our best to provide an overview of school transportation costs and challenges, but the scope of our analysis is limited by this insufficiency of data. Given the implications of insufficient and inequitable transportation options on the educational trajectory of Colorado students, it would behoove the state to begin collecting more meaningful and robust data on district transportation policies and practices.
School Transportation Funding in Colorado
Transporting students to and from school, athletic events, and field trips is an expensive proposition. It is a service that families have come to expect from school districts over the decades. It is also an important piece in the educational equity conversation. Families, especially those of limited means, should not have to worry about whether their children get safely to and from their schools of choice every day.
In Colorado, the vast majority of state education funding is disbursed to districts based on a complex school funding formula, which includes allocations for the general education program, at-risk students, and district conditions, like cost of living. However, this formula only comprises a portion of the support districts receive from the state.
In 2022, according to the Legislative Council Staff’s Research Publication No. 773, 2022 School Finance in Colorado, about $344.5 million was allocated through “categorical programs,” which are earmarks to serve particular student groups and other highly targeted purposes. The major categorical programs provide funding for instruction for English-language learners, special education, gifted and talented programs, vocational education, and school transportation.
School districts that provide transportation are reimbursed for some of the cost of transporting pupils between home and school. The reimbursement formula is two-pronged: it takes into account mileage and costs. Transportation expenditures that are reimbursable include items such as motor fuel and oil, vehicle maintenance costs, equipment, facilities, driver employment costs, and insurance.[iii]
For fiscal year 2021–22, the state budget included $62 million for the transportation program (see Figure 5 below).
As an example of how statewide transportation spending plays out at the local level, here are examples from urban, suburban, and rural districts.
- Denver Public Schools spent a total of $29.5 million on transporting students during the 2021-22 school year. Of that total, $5.9 million—20%—was reimbursed by the state.
- Jeffco Public Schools spent $23.5 million on transportation last year and received a state reimbursement of $4.9 million (21%).
- The rural Roaring Fork School District (RFSD) spent $1.7 million on transportation, and was reimbursed $374,000 (22%).
Districts do not get any reimbursement for athletics, field trips, or other extracurricular activities.[iv] Direct transportation-related costs, including driver salaries and benefits, are also included in the reimbursement calculation.
Districts must submit their CDE-40 forms by September 15th each year to receive reimbursements for the prior fiscal year (July 1st–June 30th). The form requires a count of mileage scheduled on the count day in October, the number of days during the year those routes were driven, and a detailed breakdown of current district operating expenditures.
Some district transportation directors have advocated for a different way of calculating state reimbursements. Because route miles scheduled in October are likely to differ substantially from miles driven later in the year, using a single count day probably underestimates route miles driven on average throughout the year, they say. Multiple count days or calculating reimbursements based on ridership headcounts would be more accurate and equitable.
Districts have developed various systems—ranging from high-tech, web-connected tablets to stainless steel clickers, clipboards, and manual entries—to keep track of how many students and which students ride particular routes and on which days. This makes it more feasible for reimbursements to be based on headcounts rather than route miles.
Transportation funding and the other categorical allocations require regular legislative updates to ensure that they keep up with inflation, as required by law, which also guarantees that the funding amount is no less than the previous year. Even with those measures in place, the real value of those dollars, adjusted for inflation over the last decade, amounts to a gradual decline. In fiscal year 2012, state reimbursements to school districts totaled $67.8 million (in 2022 dollars), and that number dropped to $62 million in fiscal year 2022—a decrease of 8.5%.
At the same time, miles driven transporting students has decreased by 21% over that same 10-year period. The number of students eligible for transportation has also dropped, albeit more slowly—by 8%—since 2012 (see Figure 7 below).
Actual ridership is a data point the state does not collect. In Jeffco during the current school year, just over half of eligible students use district-provided transportation per data provided directly from the district: 28,111 are eligible and 12,404 are riding.
District transportation chiefs say that one thing the state needs to improve is the reimbursement system for special education transportation. Paperwork requirements are onerous and time-consuming, they say, for reasons that are not clear.
Jared Rains, the rural Roaring Fork School District’s transportation director, said that less paperwork and easier access to funding would free up time for intensive communication with the families of the district’s four dozen students with disabilities, who require customized transportation.
Even the seemingly more straightforward task of transporting the general population of students is fraught with logistical challenges. In more urban areas, drivers can fill buses by running short routes of 15 to 20 minutes, and do this several times during a morning shift. By contrast, in Roaring Fork, to fill a bus can often require a 45-minute route. Fewer drivers often means fewer routes and even longer loops. This impels families to opt out of transportation and to drive their children to school instead.
One issue that has plagued school transportation in Colorado since even before the COVID-19 pandemic is a shortage of bus drivers. The pandemic only exacerbated an already mounting problem. Driver shortages have multiple causes, and these deficits also create a ripple effect of other challenges to transporting students efficiently, effectively, and equitably.
In Roaring Fork, which includes the communities of Glenwood Springs, Carbondale, and Basalt on Colorado’s Western Slope, driver shortages have meant a reduction in routes in the sprawling, mountainous district that covers 900 square miles. Director Rains said that his department has had to reduce routes, cutting entire neighborhoods out of its transportation system.
Director Rains reported that about 1,700 of the district’s 5,100 students ride buses and that more would ride if the district had the capacity to take them. RFSD attempts to offer stops as close to the eliminated routes as possible, but, in many cases, this means that students ride the bus for unacceptably long periods of time, or arrive at school too early or have to stay too long after the school day ends.
The driver shortages in Roaring Fork are caused by a number of factors, Director Rains noted. First, is the challenge of providing a competitive wage. The district has remained competitive, paying a starting salary of $23 per hour, which matches the area’s public transit district, because of a recent mill levy override that boosted wages for bus drivers as well as teachers and other district staff.
The pandemic, however, caused some older drivers (many of them retirees) to reevaluate the health risks of driving buses full of masked and unmasked kids. This caused attrition. RFSD went from having 38 drivers in 2019 to 18 today. Director Rains said he used to get a couple of qualified applicants each month for driver jobs, and now many months pass without a single application arriving.
Another challenge cited by Director Rains is the split-shift nature of school bus driving. Drivers work three to four hours in the morning, get a few hours off, then work another three to four hours in the afternoon. RFSD helps counter this challenge by employing as many of its drivers as possible in second jobs within the district, which they can work between shifts (i.e., health aides, custodial or food-service work).
Jefferson County Public Schools, a large suburban district in the Denver metro area, has experienced similar problems recruiting and retaining drivers. Greg Jackson, Jeffco’s transportation chief, said that the wage issue is the main culprit. He contends that Jeffco’s inability to offer competitive compensation ties back to inadequate state reimbursements for bus transportation.
Jeffco starts its drivers at $21.70 per hour, which is more than $3 per hour less than the RTD starting salary, and also lower than what private sector employers, like Kroger, offer.
Jeffco pays retention and attendance bonuses to augment driver pay, but this requires a delicate dance with the local labor union, which at times has resisted differentiated pay schemes. Despite that, the bonuses have lead drivers who receive them to become vocal advocates of the program and active recruiters for the district.
In Denver, transportation chief Albert Samora described problems similar to those experienced by Jeffco and RFSD. He cited another problem, as well: as older drivers retire and Gen-Z drivers begin filling jobs, Colorado’s recreational marijuana laws have begun to cause unanticipated trouble. Drivers are subjected to random drug and alcohol tests; alcohol processes through the human body quickly, but THC—the substance primarily responsible for the effects of marijuana on a person’s mental state—can show up in tests six weeks after someone has smoked or ingested a marijuana product. A positive drug test leads to dismissal, so young drivers accustomed to using marijuana legally are faced with a dilemma that causes some not to apply for bus driver jobs.
Another cause of driver shortages emphasized by all three districts are stringent health requirements imposed by the federal government on anyone who holds a commercial driver’s license (CDL). In the wake of a truck-involved accident caused by a sleepy trucker that severely injured comedian Tracy Morgan in 2014, the U.S. Department of Transportation began flagging people with large neck circumferences or high Body Mass Index (BMI) as possible sleep apnea candidates, imperiling their CDL status. Sleep apnea can cause daytime sleepiness because it can lead to poor nighttime sleep. Districts have lost drivers over the years because of these new requirements. Furthermore, securing a CDL license opens doors to much higher-paying jobs through private sector companies.
School district transportation leaders argue that these new regulations are too broad and should not apply to bus drivers, who drive short shifts rather than being behind the wheel for many hours at a stretch. There is a strong case to be made that bus drivers should not be required to have CDLs at all, but rather should receive a more relevant school bus driving certification.
Chief Samora said he has had to use almost his entire office staff—all of whom hold CDLs—to drive bus routes because the shortage of regular drivers has been so severe. This, he said, hampers the effectiveness of his entire operation and has a direct impact on safety. Safety is jeopardized, he said, because dispatchers and other key personnel—who would typically respond to accidents—are at times driving routes instead of sitting at their desks doing their actual jobs.
One glaring opportunity is for districts to smartly and intentionally build internal talent pipelines for positions from teachers to professional drivers. In this approach, districts need to demonstrate that transportation jobs are exciting, in-demand, well-paying, and upwardly mobile. If they are, then, by offering the initial education and training that sets a student on the course towards attaining a CDL, districts will have a good chance that some of their current students will become employees in areas of workforce shortage.
Models of Innovation
Colorado needs innovative solutions to ensure that transportation is not a major barrier to students accessing education. Colorado is not alone in this regard. Many states face a broad spectrum of transportation challenges, which are best met with a broad range of effective options. Following are three examples of the kind of transportation innovation Colorado needs, at scale, to better serve students and families.
Transportation for Career and Technical Training
The Colorado Career and Technical Act (CTA) is a state law that provides funding for career and technical education (CTE) programs in Colorado. These programs are designed to prepare students for postsecondary success, with an emphasis on careers in trades and technical fields. CTE programs often include hands-on training, internships, and other forms of work-based learning.
One lesser-known provision of the CTA is the transportation funding it provides to school districts that transport students for the specific purpose of providing technical education and training. Such programs are on the rise; more districts are working to better align their offerings with high-paying, high-demand jobs in leading industries.
In one example, Littleton School District uses state CTA dollars to transport students from Littleton to Warren Tech Campuses in Jefferson County. Warren Tech is a designated CTE center and self-described springboard to a competitive edge in college readiness and career opportunities. This kind of inter-district collaboration is in fact innovative and all too rare.
Colorado’s legislature recognized the value of career-connected learning and the importance of providing transportation resources to make it accessible. In this case, these school districts worked together to create excellent opportunities for students. This is one example of how state budget appropriations can be leveraged to close transportation gaps in public education.
Transportation to Exercise School Choice
In 2022, the Colorado Department of Education launched an innovative pilot project to remove transportation barriers for families that want to opt out of the chronically underperforming schools around them and into other public schools that better serve their needs. The program is one of many efforts to solve deep-seated problems in Adams 14 School District.
The Bright Rides program provides the option for most elementary and high school students in Adams 14 to receive free transportation to high-quality schools in neighboring districts that better meet their needs.
Under this program, transportation is provided for free through HopSkipDrive, a school transportation service that utilizes private vehicles to help students with transportation needs. This door-to-door service is designed specifically for personalized education transportation, and, through its proven track record, is “trusted by parents throughout the country for [its] extensive accountability standards and stellar safety record,” according to the Bright Rides website. It adds: “All drivers from HopSkipDrive are fully approved and experienced, so you can rest assured that your child is in good hands.”[v] HopSkipDrive operates in a number of Colorado school districts and is not limited to only the Bright Rides program.
Bright Rides allows students who live within the boundaries of five specific Adams 14 schools—three elementary and two high schools—to receive daily transportation to their choice of 65 schools in Denver that perform demonstrably better academically.
In this case, the Colorado Department of Education took a principled and practical approach to putting the power of choice into the hands of parents who need it most, removing transportation as a barrier to accessing better public schools. So long as it proves effective, it should be scaled to serve more families, especially those in areas of chronically poor performing schools.
Transportation Solutions from the Community
A community-based problem-solving approach can be found in Arizona which in 2021 enacted a statewide Transportation Modernization Grant Program, a three-year pilot program.
The legislation provides state funding to explore efficient, safe, cost-effective, and student-appropriate options for transporting K–12 students with diverse needs in the modern era.
The program provides resources in addition to current transportation funding levels to incubate ideas for improving access to reliable and safe transportation for students who attend district schools through open enrollment or attend charter schools. The program is also meant to accelerate innovation and spur efficient transportation solutions.
The state funding is available through a competitive grant process to public schools, local governments, and community partners that want to provide transportation options to get all public-school children safely and easily to the schools that will best help them thrive.
Importantly, the program ensures that rural and remote school and community partners are prioritized by allocating at least 25% of grant monies to their proposals.
In the first round of funding, 71 district and charter systems, nonprofits, and local governments representing every county in the state requested funding to implement their innovative transit ideas.
As a result of the first round of funding and insights from transportation projects across the state, a clear set of core principles was established that should drive policy changes. It suggests that public schools need the state and federal governments to rework school transportation funding and regulations to be:[vi][vii]
Flexible: Ensure that both funding and the regulatory environment are receptive to a variety of new transportation solutions
Responsive: Ensure that the funding and the regulatory environment are responsive to the unique needs of schools of different sizes and locations and students with varying transportation needs
Inclusive: Make dedicated transportation funding available to all public-school models which provide transportation programming to their students
Collaborative: Allow collaboration across school districts with shared transportation resources and with other community-based partners
Adaptable: Create regular opportunities to modernize infrastructure as well as state and federal regulatory frameworks to keep up with rapidly changing vehicle and transportation tools.
A Customized Plan for Colorado
In 2022, a coalition of stakeholders, including school districts and education advocacy groups from across the state, proposed legislation for a transportation innovation program for Colorado.
The resulting bi-partisan legislative measure, sponsored by State Representatives Colin Larson and Mary Young and State Senators Rachel Zenzinger and Cleave Simpson, was titled the “Colorado Transportation Innovation Grant Program.”
The measure aimed to provide additional funding in exchange for innovation and even experimentation. The traditional reliance on the yellow bus model is one way to transport students, but it is not the only way. In many cases, it is not the most sensible way.
Innovation is urgently needed—one of the most pressing reasons is the crippling shortage of bus drivers, which is making it difficult to safely and efficiently transport students to school. Some large school districts, like Jefferson County, are experiencing at least 20% decreases in their workforces.
Accordingly, the measure was designed both to crowd-source solutions and customize them to their respective communities. The legislation proposed a competitive grant designed to improve access to safe and reliable transportation options or develop transit innovations and efficiency solutions for public school students, including students who want to access college and career pathway opportunities.
The funding would permit districts to experiment with more family-friendly and cost-efficient transportation options while enabling the state to assess potential cost savings for public schools.
This type of collective problem-solving approach encourages proposals from across the spectrum—public schools, districts, consortia of public-school districts or schools, BOCES, local governments, and organizations that form innovative community partnerships with public schools—and benefits from pooling ideas and testing various, localized solutions.
This proposed legislation was not passed during the 2022 legislative season, but it warrants reconsideration. Although the state is not as flush with the federal COVID-19 relief dollars originally intended as the measure’s funding source, it would be prudent for legislators to explore other potential funding sources to make such a program a reality in Colorado.
Colorado school districts’ transportation models are stuck in the past and in urgent need of modernization. The traditional yellow school bus will not go away overnight, nor should it; for the foreseeable future, buses will play an important role in districts’ mix of transportation resources. Regardless, improvements and innovations are needed.
There are some clear steps that need to be taken, and collecting better data is the first. Understanding actual ridership will enable local stakeholders to design better routes and diversify modes of transportation, and more importantly it will improve insights into where further state support is needed.
Next, regulatory burdens need to be addressed. Revamping the state’s reimbursement process to be more streamlined and to better reflect actual miles driven and ridership levels would be a welcomed change by school districts. Based on feedback from district transportation directors, the process around funding transportation for students with disabilities could be greatly improved and streamlined. Lastly, changes that need to occur at the federal level to modify the onerous licensing regulations for school bus drivers should be considered.
Funding is a major issue, and more resources are needed to serve more eligible students—however, money alone will not solve districts’ transportation woes. As districts work to attract and retain qualified drivers in this hyper-competitive labor market, they should also seize the opportunity to show students that in-demand, well-paying careers in their transportation departments are worth considering.
The best hope for improvement, though, will come from those closest to the districts’ transportation operations and those most affected by it. Crowd-sourcing solutions, testing innovative ideas, and incentivizing stakeholders’ engagement through a Transportation Innovation Fund would be immensely valuable.
Colorado legislators have a major role to play in steering education transportation in the right direction. It is time to re-evaluate the funding model and consider new ways of transporting students between home and school.
District Transportation Data
The following tables highlight transportation data across all Colorado school districts, showing costs for providing student transportation, number of eligible riders, and route miles driven by districts,[viii] all of which are important to understanding the current education transportation system. However, there are crucial pieces of data that are missing—information that are not currently collected by the state—that limit the state’s ability to improve and innovate for a better future.
Figure 9 provides the basic data that each school district submits to CDE, CDE’s transportation reimbursements to the districts, and total enrollment counts.
FY22 District Transportation Data
|District||Total operating expenditure||State reimbursement||Regular pupil transportation miles||Student eligibility||Student enrollment|
|CLEAR CREEK RE-1||$731,064||$170,328||178,948||248||696|
|DENVER COUNTY 1||$29,506,651||$5,929,397||2,215,408||35,502||88,889|
|JEFFERSON COUNTY R-1||$23,454,387||$4,937,352||3,408,312||28,111||78,473|
|ADAMS COUNTY 14||$2,409,422||$488,004||151,164||5,806||6,114|
|LAKE COUNTY R-1||$331,217||$70,240||47,753||919||1,010|
|BAYFIELD 10 JT-R||$523,273||$109,034||69,520||1,290||1,311|
|GUNNISON WATERSHED RE1J||$341,063||$115,988||117,878||2,081||2,081|
|PEYTON 23 JT||$370,636||$83,919||82,225||1,300||614|
|DELTA COUNTY 50(J)||$1,598,874||$368,506||309,400||4,426||4,738|
|MONTE VISTA C-8||$197,719||$42,235||32,850||461||1,074|
|NORTH CONEJOS RE-1J||$240,291||$65,017||75,312||1,005||1,005|
|CHERRY CREEK 5||$25,930,104||$5,242,625||1,622,648||21,051||53,558|
|CENTER 26 JT||$150,669||$30,857||22,765||282||617|
|SIERRA GRANDE R-30||$200,840||$41,797||24,215||265||259|
|ADAMS 12 FIVE STAR SCHOOLS||$9,871,042||$2,033,714||1,095,038||11,904||36,078|
|HOEHNE REORGANIZED 3||$187,879||$40,586||29,678||314||314|
|SOUTH CONEJOS RE-10||$77,759||$21,705||14,162||140||149|
|MOFFAT COUNTY RE:NO 1||$605,049||$162,050||148,801||1,463||2,118|
|EAGLE COUNTY RE 50||$2,113,015||$439,496||350,149||3,395||6,689|
|ARCHULETA COUNTY 50 JT||$931,179||$205,644||170,150||1,511||1,712|
|WELDON VALLEY RE-20(J)||$0||$23,217||17,446||144||225|
|WEST GRAND 1-JT.||$601,266||$43,726||28,978||225||393|
|WILEY RE-13 JT||$2,752,168||$13,489||13,416||103||262|
|PARK COUNTY RE-2||$197,692||$48,362||52,398||399||596|
|DOUGLAS COUNTY RE 1||$22,558,826||$4,637,739||2,587,623||18,889||63,876|
|COLORADO SPRINGS 11||$5,130,762||$1,139,711||1,044,701||7,595||23,366|
|PLATEAU VALLEY 50||$102,505||$22,257||16,790||120||305|
|GILPIN COUNTY RE-1||$264,882||$58,475||52,038||371||437|
|SANGRE DE CRISTO RE-22J||$131,868||$32,122||20,876||131||246|
|PLATTE CANYON 1||$673,918||$148,236||134,879||837||837|
|PUEBLO CITY 60||$2,752,168||$505,752||313,558||1,799||15,134|
|ST VRAIN VALLEY RE 1J||$9,958,336||$2,177,233||1,830,686||10,282||32,406|
|MESA COUNTY VALLEY 51||$7,667,316||$1,703,229||1,678,056||9,032||21,315|
|EAST OTERO R-1||$182,522||$49,119||61,784||329||1,358|
|PARK (ESTES PARK) R-3||$415,600||$92,937||70,728||369||1,058|
|SOUTH ROUTT RE 3||$198,750||$78,453||49,580||255||339|
|STEAMBOAT SPRINGS RE-2||$895,588||$188,650||128,694||650||2,640|
|DEL NORTE C-7||$142,151||$31,905||33,460||168||403|
|ROCKY FORD R-2||$151,446||$39,367||31,080||155||676|
|PLATTE VALLEY RE-7||$511,011||$123,482||103,554||516||1,078|
|WEST END RE-2||$501,535||$48,561||55,046||272||272|
|PRIMERO REORGANIZED 2||$158,911||$37,308||43,987||213||228|
|BOULDER VALLEY RE 2||$16,123,216||$3,303,369||1,695,807||7,979||29,011|
|MONTROSE COUNTY RE-1J||$1,893,002||$349,021||395,076||1,813||6,061|
|ROARING FORK RE-1||$1,737,671||$373,883||295,991||1,288||5,306|
|MANITOU SPRINGS 14||$624,112||$133,812||92,462||402||1,329|
|BUENA VISTA R-31||$351,949||$76,612||65,928||264||1,052|
|CHARTER SCHOOL INSTITUTE (CSI)||$1,629,488||$349,868||305,660||1,179||21,947|
|BRANSON REORGANIZED 82||$70,818||$19,240||20,258||74||502|
|FORT MORGAN RE-3||$817,055||$201,655||142,450||512||3,381|
|CANON CITY RE-1||$682,745||$147,330||128,960||458||3,325|
|WOODLAND PARK RE-2||$245,029||$231,917||230,156||789||1,832|
|MC CLAVE RE-2||$102,719||$24,049||42,768||139||237|
|CROWLEY COUNTY RE-1-J||$134,392||$34,119||50,344||161||405|
|CRIPPLE CREEK-VICTOR RE-1||$324,936||$79,764||45,756||142||352|
|IGNACIO 11 JT||$474,849||$115,344||93,226||268||640|
|MOUNTAIN VALLEY RE 1||$92,313||$25,927||32,384||92||185|
|DE BEQUE 49JT||$26,332||$5,767||7,047||19||172|
|DEER TRAIL 26J||$96,849||$27,726||56,788||144||295|
|LAS ANIMAS RE-1||$113,762||$29,634||57,010||144||826|
|BIG SANDY 100J||$266,431||$61,178||72,846||171||325|
|MIAMI/YODER 60 JT||$328,468||$86,178||149,486||318||313|
|DOLORES COUNTY RE NO.2||$208,253||$49,076||64,622||128||254|
|FORT LUPTON RE-8||$950,302||$233,966||210,805||413||2,482|
|EAST GRAND 2||$601,266||$147,869||224,170||425||1,286|
|LA VETA RE-2||$17,599||$4,455||3,537||6||207|
|AGUILAR REORGANIZED 6||$57,390||$16,033||18,542||31||114|
|CREEDE CONSOLIDATED 1||$10,163||$6,478||21,347||33||78|
|EDISON 54 JT||$143,099||$35,692||52,848||72||137|
|LONE STAR 101||$75,728||$20,044||35,136||47||125|
|PLATTE VALLEY RE-3||$57,886||$17,035||21,900||28||133|
|YUMA COUNTY 1||$347,932||$64,883||138,489||144||876|
|CHEYENNE COUNTY RE-5||$86,200||$24,563||29,435||24||188|
|KIM REORGANIZED 88||$56,439||$19,527||51,097||31||32|
|KIT CARSON R-1||$150,699||$42,519||73,150||43||100|
|CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN 12||$198,022||$71,543||54,638||26||3,641|
|NORTH PARK R-1||$11,307||$5,507||47,069||19||173|
|HINSDALE COUNTY RE 1||$4,780||$2,148||8,280||2||77|
Figure 10 includes calculations based upon the data in Figure 9 that provide insight into districts’ transportation costs and utilization.
|District||Eligible share of total enrollment||Miles per eligible student||Reimbursement per mile||Reimbursement per eligible pupil||Operating expenditure per mile||Operating expenditure per eligible student|
|CLEAR CREEK RE-1||35.60%||721.6||$0.95||$686.81||$4.09||$2,948|
|DENVER COUNTY 1||39.90%||62.4||$2.68||$167.02||$13.32||$831|
|JEFFERSON COUNTY R-1||35.80%||121.2||$1.45||$175.64||$6.88||$834|
|ADAMS COUNTY 14||95.00%||26||$3.23||$84.05||$15.94||$415|
|LAKE COUNTY R-1||91.00%||52||$1.47||$76.43||$6.94||$360|
|BAYFIELD 10 JT-R||98.40%||53.9||$1.57||$84.52||$7.53||$406|
|GUNNISON WATERSHED RE1J||100.00%||56.6||$0.98||$55.74||$2.89||$164|
|PEYTON 23 JT||211.70%||63.3||$1.02||$64.55||$4.51||$285|
|DELTA COUNTY 50(J)||93.40%||69.9||$1.19||$83.26||$5.17||$361|
|MONTE VISTA C-8||42.90%||71.3||$1.29||$91.62||$6.02||$429|
|NORTH CONEJOS RE-1J||100.00%||74.9||$0.86||$64.69||$3.19||$239|
|CHERRY CREEK 5||39.30%||77.1||$3.23||$249.04||$15.98||$1,232|
|CENTER 26 JT||45.70%||80.7||$1.36||$109.42||$6.62||$534|
|SIERRA GRANDE R-30||102.30%||91.4||$1.73||$157.72||$8.29||$758|
|ADAMS 12 FIVE STAR SCHOOLS||33.00%||92||$1.86||$170.84||$9.01||$829|
|HOEHNE REORGANIZED 3||100.00%||94.5||$1.37||$129.25||$6.33||$598|
|SOUTH CONEJOS RE-10||94.00%||101.2||$1.53||$155.04||$5.49||$555|
|MOFFAT COUNTY RE:NO 1||69.10%||101.7||$1.09||$110.77||$4.07||$414|
|EAGLE COUNTY RE 50||50.80%||103.1||$1.26||$129.45||$6.03||$622|
|ARCHULETA COUNTY 50 JT||88.30%||112.6||$1.21||$136.10||$5.47||$616|
|WELDON VALLEY RE-20(J)||64.00%||121.2||$1.33||$161.23||$0.00||$0|
|WEST GRAND 1-JT.||57.30%||128.8||$1.51||$194.34||$20.75||$2,672|
|WILEY RE-13 JT||39.30%||130.3||$1.01||$130.96||$205.14||$26,720|
|PARK COUNTY RE-2||66.90%||131.3||$0.92||$121.21||$3.77||$495|
|DOUGLAS COUNTY RE 1||29.60%||137||$1.79||$245.53||$8.72||$1,194|
|COLORADO SPRINGS 11||32.50%||137.6||$1.09||$150.06||$4.91||$676|
|PLATEAU VALLEY 50||39.30%||139.9||$1.33||$185.48||$6.11||$854|
|GILPIN COUNTY RE-1||84.90%||140.3||$1.12||$157.61||$5.09||$714|
|SANGRE DE CRISTO RE-22J||53.30%||159.4||$1.54||$245.21||$6.32||$1,007|
|PLATTE CANYON 1||100.00%||161.1||$1.10||$177.10||$5.00||$805|
|PUEBLO CITY 60||11.90%||174.3||$1.61||$281.13||$8.78||$1,530|
|ST VRAIN VALLEY RE 1J||31.70%||178||$1.19||$211.75||$5.44||$969|
|MESA COUNTY VALLEY 51||42.40%||185.8||$1.02||$188.58||$4.57||$849|
|EAST OTERO R-1||24.20%||187.8||$0.80||$149.30||$2.95||$555|
|PARK (ESTES PARK) R-3||34.90%||191.7||$1.31||$251.86||$5.88||$1,126|
|SOUTH ROUTT RE 3||75.20%||194.4||$1.58||$307.66||$4.01||$779|
|STEAMBOAT SPRINGS RE-2||24.60%||198||$1.47||$290.23||$6.96||$1,378|
|DEL NORTE C-7||41.70%||199.2||$0.95||$189.91||$4.25||$846|
|ROCKY FORD R-2||22.90%||200.5||$1.27||$253.98||$4.87||$977|
|PLATTE VALLEY RE-7||47.90%||200.7||$1.19||$239.31||$4.93||$990|
|WEST END RE-2||100.00%||202.4||$0.88||$178.53||$9.11||$1,844|
|PRIMERO REORGANIZED 2||93.40%||206.5||$0.85||$175.15||$3.61||$746|
|BOULDER VALLEY RE 2||27.50%||212.5||$1.95||$414.01||$9.51||$2,021|
|MONTROSE COUNTY RE-1J||29.90%||217.9||$0.88||$192.51||$4.79||$1,044|
|ROARING FORK RE-1||24.30%||229.8||$1.26||$290.28||$5.87||$1,349|
|MANITOU SPRINGS 14||30.20%||230||$1.45||$332.87||$6.75||$1,553|
|BUENA VISTA R-31||25.10%||249.7||$1.16||$290.20||$5.34||$1,333|
|CHARTER SCHOOL INSTITUTE (CSI)||5.40%||259.3||$1.14||$296.75||$5.33||$1,382|
|BRANSON REORGANIZED 82||14.70%||273.8||$0.95||$260.00||$3.50||$957|
|FORT MORGAN RE-3||15.10%||278.2||$1.42||$393.86||$5.74||$1,596|
|CANON CITY RE-1||13.80%||281.6||$1.14||$321.68||$5.29||$1,491|
|WOODLAND PARK RE-2||43.10%||291.7||$1.01||$293.94||$1.06||$311|
|MC CLAVE RE-2||58.60%||307.7||$0.56||$173.01||$2.40||$739|
|CROWLEY COUNTY RE-1-J||39.80%||312.7||$0.68||$211.92||$2.67||$835|
|CRIPPLE CREEK-VICTOR RE-1||40.30%||322.2||$1.74||$561.72||$7.10||$2,288|
|IGNACIO 11 JT||41.90%||347.9||$1.24||$430.39||$5.09||$1,772|
|MOUNTAIN VALLEY RE 1||49.70%||352||$0.80||$281.82||$2.85||$1,003|
|DE BEQUE 49JT||11.00%||370.9||$0.82||$303.53||$3.74||$1,386|
|DEER TRAIL 26J||48.80%||394.4||$0.49||$192.54||$1.71||$673|
|LAS ANIMAS RE-1||17.40%||395.9||$0.52||$205.79||$2.00||$790|
|BIG SANDY 100J||52.60%||426||$0.84||$357.77||$3.66||$1,558|
|MIAMI/YODER 60 JT||101.60%||470.1||$0.58||$271.00||$2.20||$1,033|
|DOLORES COUNTY RE NO.2||50.40%||504.9||$0.76||$383.41||$3.22||$1,627|
|FORT LUPTON RE-8||16.60%||510.4||$1.11||$566.50||$4.51||$2,301|
|EAST GRAND 2||33.00%||527.5||$0.66||$347.93||$2.68||$1,415|
|LA VETA RE-2||2.90%||589.5||$1.26||$742.50||$4.98||$2,933|
|AGUILAR REORGANIZED 6||27.20%||598.1||$0.86||$517.19||$3.10||$1,851|
|CREEDE CONSOLIDATED 1||42.30%||646.9||$0.30||$196.30||$0.48||$308|
|EDISON 54 JT||52.60%||734||$0.68||$495.72||$2.71||$1,987|
|LONE STAR 101||37.60%||747.6||$0.57||$426.47||$2.16||$1,611|
|PLATTE VALLEY RE-3||21.10%||782.1||$0.78||$608.39||$2.64||$2,067|
|YUMA COUNTY 1||16.40%||961.7||$0.47||$450.58||$2.51||$2,416|
|CHEYENNE COUNTY RE-5||12.80%||1226.5||$0.83||$1,023.46||$2.93||$3,592|
|KIM REORGANIZED 88||96.90%||1648.3||$0.38||$629.90||$1.10||$1,821|
|KIT CARSON R-1||43.00%||1701.2||$0.58||$988.81||$2.06||$3,505|
|CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN 12||0.70%||2101.5||$1.31||$2,751.65||$3.62||$7,616|
|NORTH PARK R-1||11.00%||2477.3||$0.12||$289.84||$0.24||$595|
|HINSDALE COUNTY RE 1||2.60%||4140||$0.26||$1,074.00||$0.58||$2,390|
[v] “Bright Rides.” Bright Rides, 2022, brightrides.org. Accessed 9 Jan. 2023.