TAMPA, Fla. — The law in Florida mandates school districts provide school busing for all students who live more than two miles from their assigned schools.
That leaves many children without a bus option, forcing them to catch their own ride, walk or bike to school.
In some cases where there are dangerous walking conditions within the two mile radius, the state does require busing, but the criteria for unsafe walking hasn't significantly changed in more than 40 years.
The law doesn't take into consideration a lack of sidewalks, lighting or crime rate as part of the criteria to determine if a child needs to be bused to school.
According to the Florida Association of Pupil Transportation, there have been attempts in the past to make changes to the statute, such as reducing the mileage from 2 miles to 1.5 miles. Those attempts may have failed due to the cost.
Jim Beekman, general manager of transportation with Hillsborough County Schools, doesn't believe mileage reduction will solve the problem.
There are some distances at 2 miles that are safe to travel and some areas that are within ½ a mile that are too hazardous to walk.
Beekman wants state lawmakers to come up with completely new criteria that are more relevant and updated to address today's safety concerns. He proposes a task force made up of engineers and safety specialists to spearhead the effort.
During the 2017-18 school year, school districts in Florida spent more than $1 billion dollars transporting students to and from school yet only received $438 million dollars in state funding. That leaves districts making up the financial difference to safely transport kids.
When a route less than two miles from a school does meet the hazardous walking criteria, the state will reimburse a district but only if an elementary school student lives there. That means the district is on the hook for transporting 6th-12th graders who would otherwise have to walk in unsafe conditions.
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