The rising price of school bus fuel is having rippling effects on school's budgets, and some are forced to cut food for kids.
It’s no secret that the cost of gas is rising. Last month, the Russian-Ukrainian War led to the highest gas prices seen in history, and the price will likely only continue to increase. Just like everyone else struggling with increased costs of living, school districts are feeling the burden as well. Afraid of running out of allocated funds for school bus fuel expenses, some districts have gotten creative with how they are pinching pennies elsewhere to make up for the price hike, and some are cutting food from the kids’ table because of it.
EdWeek’s research center surveyed district leaders across the nation in regards to fuel prices between March 30th and April 8th. Not surprisingly, nearly all of them reported that fuel prices have risen in their districts since the beginning of the year. Of those schools, 14% said the costs to fuel their school bus fleets had doubled since the beginning of the year, while 56% reported a hike somewhere between 1% and 50%.
One of those polled, the Anoka-Hennepin school district located in Minnesota, reported that they have already spent an additional $100 thousand on school bus fuel than they budgeted for the entire year. Superintendent David Law said that the district will have to absorb the additional cost for the rest of the school year from another line item in the school’s $550 million annual operating budget.
But the cost of fuel isn’t the only growing concern in districts like Anoka-Hennepin. School bus drivers contracted with districts have also been feeling the effects, and some are reportedly asking districts for a never-before-heard-of mid-year raise to cover additional expenses related to fuel. In the Anoka-Hennepin district, schools are in the middle of a five-year contract with their bus provider, but the contract allows adjustments for fuel increases.
The budget shift to allocate more funds to school bus fuel has had rippling effects in the Anoka-Hennepin district. At the start of each school year, schools allocate their entire budget to different areas, and that’s the funds they have for the year. When an instance like this occurs, and they need to pull more funding, another line item in the budget is forced to shrink or disappear altogether.
But the rising cost of school bus fuel is also affecting the food supply chain of school districts. And with rising fuel costs comes additional fees for food. Schools in Davenport, Iowa receive deliveries of fresh fruit and vegetables to serve in school lunches as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture grant program. For the last month, each of those deliveries has come with a tacked-on $8 fuel surcharge. Because of this added cost, one of those districts in Iowa has already run out of funds for the school year to continue serving fresh fruit and vegetables, and others are close behind.
School bus fuel and veggies aren’t the only issues in Iowa, as bread might soon run out as well. The district’s bread vendor, with which the schools fork over $60 thousand a year for grains, had said they will discontinue service unless the schools can pay 20% more going forward to cover fuel costs. The district said they will likely have to switch to a frozen bread vendor next year.
The rising cost of gas is killing districts, but some are coming up with creative ways to combat the issue without cutting out students’ meals. In Lansing, Michigan, schools are offering families who opt out of sending students to school on a school bus were provided with gas cards. Some bus companies are offering electric school bus subscription services that are now in line with the costs of fuel. Regardless of how they do it, the problem needs addressing, and it will likely cause more budget issues ahead of the next school year.