The state Senate on Thursday passed a bill to modernize K-12 student transportation and give educational providers greater flexibility in the vehicles in their fleets.
Currently, certain classes of vehicles owned by public schools are unable to be used for regularly scheduled transportation. SB 1630, sponsored by Sen. Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye, authorizes school districts, charter schools, and contracted private entities to use motor vehicles designed to carry fewer than 16 passengers to transport students to or from school on a regularly scheduled basis.
“As Arizona continues to strive to be a leader in modernizing K-12 transportation, this bill allows another opportunity to expand on the modernization and flexibility that our districts need,” Kerr said last month.
Under the legislation, the Department of Public Safety would be authorized to prescribe safety standards for vehicles designed to carry 11-15 passengers. Schools would be permitted to use these vehicles, currently only used for limited school-related activities, for regularly scheduled pick-up and drop-off to and from school.
Also, the Transportation Advisory Council would be renamed the Student Transportation Advisory Council, and the council’s size would be increased from 9 to 13 members. The bill was amended to ensure one of the advisory board members would be chosen based upon their expertise in electric vehicle transportation
In an attempt to address the shortage of school bus drivers, the bill changes the law to no longer require commercial driver licenses for those who would operate the school-owned vehicles designed to carry fewer than 16 people.
“Right now, we have a school bus driver shortage, as people train and get the certifications necessary to drive a school bus, they are often hired off to the mines or large companies like FedEx and Amazon who pay them more,” said Mathew Simon, vice president of government affairs and advocacy for Great Leaders Strong Schools, during a committee hearing on the bill. “Not requiring a CDL for 11-15 person buses will allow more flexibility and use of vehicles.”
Dianna Diaz Harrison the director of Arizona Autism Charter schools, a charter focused on education for students with autism, testified in committee that “Our student’s zip codes span all over the county and it makes it hard to launch a transportation program that can help them. We need a micro-transit system that can shuttle students to our central Phoenix and West Valley locations.”
Simon says his organization is focused on creating transportation options to help students and families reach the education providers that best fits their needs.
“The challenge we see is the lack of flexibility in our transportation rules,” he said. “As new vehicles and safety features come online, this will allow them to have the regulatory flexibility to amend rules rather than to have to come back to the Legislature.”
The bill, which passed 17-10, now heads to the House of Representatives.