By Cody Beers, Cowboy State Daily
A plan that could have potentially halved the reimbursement to parents who drive their children to and from distant bus stops has been rejected by the Wyoming Department of Education (WDE).
The WDE, in a policy memo, said it would continue to reimburse parents for all four legs of a trip to take their children to bus stops before school and pick them up after.
“The Wyoming Department of Education will reimburse transportation claims for up to two round-trips per day,” WDE Chief of Staff Dicky Shanor wrote in the memo to school superintendents, principals and transportation directors. “This interpretation (of Wyoming state law) will take effect immediately for all claims submitted on Nov. 18, 2019, and thereafter.”
The policy provides reimbursement for parents, who in effect, act as the school bus for their children, providing transportation for students that school districts would otherwise be providing if schools could access remote rural areas.
Shanor confirmed the policy interpretation change in an interview with the Cowboy State Daily this week.
“We decided to interpret it more favorably for the parents,” he said. “The whole goal is to provide the best transportation options for students. If a parent is making that round trip twice daily, it seems more prudent to allow for full reimbursement for parents to get their students where they need to be to get to school.”
Wyoming State Statute 21-4-401 states that school districts “shall provide transportation for isolated students when it is in the best interests of these students to provide transportation to existing schools, instead of establishing a new school for them.”
During the 2017-18 school year, WDE reimbursed Wyoming school districts $480,111 – $449,151 for mileage reimbursement and $30,960 for maintenance costs – for following the state’s policy isolation/maintenance payments to rural parents.
School districts with the highest student isolation/maintenance state reimbursements in the 2017-18 school year included Crook County No. 1 (Sundance/Hulett/Moorcroft), $92,699; Converse County No. 1 (Douglas), $48,543; Natrona No. 1 (Casper), $46,968; Albany No. 1 (Laramie), $42,363, and Teton No. 1 (Jackson), $32,611.
A policy change occurred last summer when the Education Department formed a committee to review its rules. The change effectively reduced reimbursements to parents from two daily round trips to the bus stop to one round trip per day.
When the change occurred, Shanor said the justification was based on students themselves making just one trip per day — school and back home.
With that interpretation, mileage traveled by parents after dropping children off or before picking them up was not being reimbursed.
However, members of the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Education Committee agreed last fall that the law, in their view, was intended to provide for reimbursement for two round trips each day, and the committee requested that the WDE review the law and address the rules for isolation/maintenance reimbursements.
Shanor said WDE concurred with the legislative committee after reviewing state law and its policy, and since Nov. 18, parents making two round trips a day are being reimbursed.
“These parents are helping with the education of their children, especially in these rural areas,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do.”