On February 20th at 3 pm, the Oregon House Committee on Education will hold a public hearing on HB 3014, a bill that could give schools more flexibility in how they spend transportation dollars. Currently, Oregon law says monies set aside for school transportation can only be spent on buses or vans.
Supporters of this bill, including Portland-based nonprofit Oregon Walks and Alameda Elementary School teacher and bike bus leader Sam Balto, feel like it’s time to expand the possibilities of these funds so they can support things like public transit passes and payments to crossing guards, as well as leaders of bike buses and walking school buses.
The introduction of this bill (which is included in our guide to the 2023 Oregon legislative session) was prompted by a school bus driver shortage that has created a school transportation crisis in Oregon for several years now. This problem resulted in Portland Public Schools cutting bus service for routes to Lincoln and Benson High Schools from areas outside of TriMet’s service area, a move that put some families in a transportation lurch.
Programs like Balto’s bike bus have demonstrated there are practical alternatives to school buses for a lot of students. But one of the things holding back the development of more bike buses across the state is the fact that most districts cannot currently can’t use their transportation funds to pay people to lead groups of kids walking and biking to school. They have to rely on volunteers instead, which isn’t sustainable for mass implementation of these transportation modes.
Here’s an excerpt from the bill text:
The rules adopted under this subsection must allow for the reimbursement of costs incurred by a school district in lieu of providing transportation, including public transit passes, payment for crossing guards or pedestrian or bicycle group leaders and payment for the promotion and coordination of alternative transportation options. In no event may a school district receive an amount under this paragraph that is greater than the amount the school district would have received under paragraph (a) of this subsection for providing transportation…
In a one-pager from bill supporters East Multnomah County Schools and Oregon Walks, they point out the bill doesn’t give districts any additional funding for new programming.
“Currently, school districts can only use State School Fund Transportation Grant dollars to cover certain types of transportation,” the brief states. “[This bill] simply gives them greater flexibility in how they use their existing dollars so they can do what it takes to get all students to school.”
Balto has long been advocating for paying bike bus and walking school bus leaders, saying it will be what truly tips the scale for these alternative transportation modes to be seen as legitimate just like the yellow school bus or the car drop-off line. HB 3014 is what could make this happen for Oregonians.
The bill currently has 11 sponsors — seven in the House and four in the Senate. All of them are Democrats. The bill will be heard in the Committee on Education. Two of the bills sponsors, Rep. Courtney Neron (D-26) and Rep. Hoa Nguyen (D-48) are members of that committee (Neron is chair).
So, if you want your kids to be able to ride a bike bus or you just want to see more TikTok videos of cute children riding bikes en masse (and who doesn’t?), pay attention to this bill. The hearing is not on the committee agenda yet, but should be posted here soon.
UPDATE, 12:50 pm: Bill sponsor Rep. Khanh Pham is hosting a bike bus day in Salem to show support for the bill at the hearing. See the flyer below for details.
Learn about all the bills on our watch list with our 2023 legislative guide.
Taylor has been BikePortland’s staff writer since November 2021. She has also written for Street Roots and Eugene Weekly. Contact her at email@example.com