Senate passes Ujifusa bill to study statewide school transportation system


STATE HOUSE – The Senate today approved a resolution sponsored by Sen. Linda Ujifusa to create a joint legislative commission to study the statewide school transportation system.

“Many school districts are facing enormous costs for transporting students to schools across far-flung regions, and they have no control over the cost of the statewide transportation system, or the size of the region to which they are assigned. At the very least, after nearly a half-century of this system, we should review this program to make it more efficient, cost-effective and beneficial to our students,” said Senator Ujifusa.

State law requires local school districts to pay the costs of transporting students outside their districts if they have special needs that can’t be met locally or they attend a private, parochial, charter or career and technical school within the district’s assigned transportation region. The law requires districts to use a statewide transportation service administered by the R.I. Department of Education (RIDE), or seek a variance from RIDE, for instance, to use district-owned buses, but receive no reimbursement.

The state law creating the program in 1977 sliced the state into five regions. While some regions include four or five communities, Region 3, which includes Bristol and Warren, consists of 12 cities and towns, most of which are on the other side of Narragansett Bay. That means the district has to pay to transport students to schools as far away as Johnston or Cranston.

The resolution (2024-S 2523Aaa) creates a 13-member commission including legislators and representatives of the state education commissioner, the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, the Rhode Island School Superintendents Association, the Rhode Island PTA, the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, the Secretary/Treasurer of Teamsters Local 251, and the Department of Children, Youth and Families. The commission would be charged with studying the transportation needs of students, the most cost-effective way of providing them and what changes need to be made to the state’s laws governing the statewide transportation program.

The resolution, which is backed by the Portsmouth and Bristol-Warren school committees, now goes to the House of Representatives, where Rep. Terri Cortvriend (D-Dist. 72, Portsmouth, Middletown) is sponsoring companion legislation (2024-H 7615).