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Northern Michigan educators ask state for more transportation money

Taylor Wizner

Educators in northern Michigan are urging state lawmakers to include more funding for school transportation in the state budget.

They want to address the inequities across school districts.

Funding for schools is mostly driven by student head counts or what's called per-pupil funding. Districts with more students typically pay less to transport them over shorter distances.

In northern Michigan, districts have fewer student and less funding, but have more transportation costs.

That’s because of the large areas schools have to cover.

Nick Ceglarek is the superintendent of Northwest Education Services, serving five counties and 16 public school districts.

“If this funding goes through, this would allow our schools to be able to put those dollars supporting the transportation costs into other programs they feel are important to their schools,” Ceglarek said.

Advocates are asking for $150 million in extra school transportation funds statewide.

Districts with fewer students and more travel distance would get first dibs at transportation funding.

Benzie Central Schools has about 1,300 students. It spent 13% of its operating budget or $1.3 million getting kids to school last school year.

That’s in a mostly rural area where some students ride the bus for more than an hour.

Superintendent Amiee Erfourth said funding for school transportation could free up the district’s budget in different ways.

“Having the ability to recoup these costs really does give us some opportunities to improve facilities for students, improve student student [to] teacher ratios, really help improve the quality of education,” Erfourth said.

If the extra school transportation funding makes it into the final state budget, rural districts like Benzie Central Schools could get priority.

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Tyler Thompson is a reporter at Interlochen Public Radio.