Legislation that would replace older school buses with environmentally friendly buses was stalled by the Senate Education Committee Friday amid concerns from a lawmaker.
Under HB 49 – Clean Fuel School Buses and Infrastructure, which is sponsored by Representative Steve Handy (Republican – Layton), is designed to allow the State Board of Education to award grants to school districts or charter schools to replace fuel-inefficient school buses that were manufactured prior to 2002 with new buses that are equipped with “clean” diesel fuel.
The total price tag for the program would be $20 million and the bill also allocates funding to retrofit maintenance shops to service and maintain buses that use alternative fuel.
Senator Howard Stephenson (Republican – Draper) questioned whether buying new buses for school districts that haven’t kept their buses in good shape is a responsible use of taxpayer funds. “I have a hard time understanding why we should send dollars to districts that haven’t been keeping clean buses at the expense of those who have,” Stephenson told the committee. He went on to describe the plan as a “bailout” for the school districts.
Responding to Stephenson’s remarks, Handy contends that it is in fact not a “bailout.” “I don’t characterize it as a “bailout” because as a legislature we do fund pupil transportation, as you well know. You understand the funding in public education better than I do or I ever will, but we do fund it.”
Handy told the committee that districts, regardless of their upkeep of vehicles, will not be given preferential treatment with regard to funding. “I don’t believe that in the rule making that we would grant over the Utah State Office of Education that they’re going to give preferential treatment to districts who haven’t perhaps done what they should have done.”
The program would greatly benefit the Weber School District, said Superintendent Jeff Stephens. “We’ve got buses that are so old in our fleet that we can’t find parts for them. This bill would be a tremendous benefit [for the school district]. We have 82 buses that qualify under the current definitions. We think we could maybe purchase 16 if we match. It doesn’t completely solve our problem, but it would go a long way.”
Ingrid Griffee, executive director of Utah Moms for Clean Air, urged the committee to advance the bill. “It’s very important for public health as well as air quality and we’d like to see this bill passed. Utah’s been blessed many times. We have an abundance of children – we’re the youngest state in the nation demographically. And with that blessing comes an obligation to make sure we’re doing absolutely everything we can to do right by these people that are entrusted to us.”
Nevertheless, the committee adjourned without taking a vote on the bill.