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State may cut school bus funding in half

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SPRINGFIELD – Schools across Illinois may see school bus money from the state cut in half this fall.

By Melissa Leu

SPRINGFIELD – Schools across Illinois may see school bus money from the state cut in half this fall.

The Illinois State Board of Education asked lawmakers in the state House on Tuesday for more funding, particularly for school transportation.

But Gov. Pat Quinn has proposed to slash local school budgets by more than $37.5 million for the next fiscal year. The total earmarked for elementary, junior high and high schools still tops $10.7 billion for the 2012 spending plan.

But the proposed cut to school bus budgets went too deep for some.

Less money for buses may mean longer wait times and rides for kids, especially for those in downstate, rural districts, said Rep. David Reis, R-Olney.

"What good is it to have good quality teachers, teaching standards, the best books and the best school rooms, if you won't even make a commitment to bus the kid to the school," said Reis, who represents Jasper County, which has the geographically largest school district in the state.

Some students in Reis' district ride the school bus for up to an hour each way.

Reis said halving the state transportation budget for schools could double time students spend on buses.

Linda Mitchell, ISBE's chief financial officer said it's impossible to teach students if they aren't in schools.

"Our board contends that although dollars spent on buses and gasoline are not necessarily dollars spent on textbooks, they are a critical part of providing support to education in this state," Mitchell said.

In the 2011 fiscal year, ISBE spent about $212,000 of its $11.2 million budget on providing free transportation for students who live 1.5 miles or more away from their school .

State Rep. William Davis, D-East Hazel Crest, who heads the House committee that will delegate funds for elementary and high school education, said transportation funds might be targeted because they aren't directly linked to federal funds the state draws in for other mandatory programs.

"Transportation, unfortunately, is just one of those big chunks of money that sits out there, where if we want to make some reductions, we can, but will that really help us get to our magic number? At the end of the day, I don't think so."

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