Gov. Doug Ducey allocated $5 million in settlement money from the state’s Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust to purchase 45 new school buses for rural districts and charter schools.
This is the fifth wave of a broader $38 million plan to buy 280 school buses using funds from the state’s $57 million settlement with automaker Volkswagen for violating the Arizona Consumer Fraud Act and the U.S. Clean Air Act by misrepresenting emissions statistics and modifying vehicles to cheat emissions tests.
After four waves of funding totaling $31.8 million for 285 school buses, Arizona had extra money in the trust to allocate additional buses. With this final ration, the state has allocated a total of $36.8 million for 330 school buses at 141 school districts and charter schools.
“Investing in our K-12 schools remains a top priority,” Ducey said. “Arizona found an innovative way to use these settlement funds to invest in public education. The new school buses have gone a long way to benefit Arizona schools, especially those in low-income districts and rural communities. And with this last round of funding, every rural county in Arizona received at least one bus. Rural schools can use freed up funds to meet other capital needs.”
The state government worked directly with 13 rural county school superintendents and used a uniform application process to determine the rural districts’ needs. Many of the districts receiving buses with this final wave had not received any in previous waves.
“We are extremely grateful to Governor Ducey for prioritizing rural school districts when deciding how to allocate the remaining school buses,” said Jill Broussard, school superintendent for Pinal County, in a statement from the governor. “The additional funding for new school buses is an incredible help. Not only can we rest assured that our students will be able to get to and from school safely, we can also focus on funding other pressing projects in our districts.”
Pinal County received the largest bus allocation: eight buses for seven rural schools and a charter school in Apache Junction.
Rural schools and students face unique challenges when it comes to transportation, as students often are few and far between and must travel great distances to get to school.
“Probably 60 to 70 percent of our students ride the bus, and some of the students ride the bus for significant distances to get to school, so the governor recognizing the specific needs of rural schools is extremely helpful,” said Jerry Jennex, superintendent of schools for Globe Unified School District.
Globe wants to keep its bus fleet as current as possible, but it is difficult with limited education funding; a new school bus costs in the ballpark of $110,000. Any extra help the school district can get goes a long way, Jennex said.
“Arizona has many unique rural areas, but Globe is hilly — being a copper mining community — and so sometimes our buses face challenges that buses in a flatter environment would not face,” he said.