TEA says money depleted for school bus seat belts

school bus

With the recent school bus accident that killed and injured multiple students in Houston still in the news and on the minds of parents everywhere, the Texas Education Agency has been answering tough questions about school bus safety belt regulations and state funding meant to ensure those regulations were adhered to.

TEA spokesperson DeEtta Culbertson said there was legislation enacted in 2009 that would require school buses purchased after September 2010 to be equipped with three-point safety harnesses, but the caveat included in the action stated that the rule would only apply if there was funding available to reimburse entities for the cost. According to her, $10 million was earmarked for the project, although less than $500,000 was ever awarded to install safety belts in school buses statewide.

“In 2011, the state was undergoing major budget issues,” Culbertson said. “At that time, $7.5 million went back into the (state’s) general fund.”

According to her, TEA was required to give the money back to the state after lackluster response from school districts prevented the seat belt grant funding from making its way to its intended target.

“I can’t say why they didn’t apply for the funding,” Culbertson said, mentioning that school districts could have been kept back by the grant stipulations citing the purchase of new school buses as a requirement, or the stringent applique of a 3-tier process of awarding the grant. “What I do know is only 12 (out of more than 1,000 Texas school districts) applied.”

Of the 12 applicants for the seat belt grant funding, only four were given any money, a total of  $416,582.

Culbertson said, “Expenditures of grant awards were limited exclusively to the incremental cost of purchasing buses with three-point seat belts, or for reimbursing the incremental cost of purchasing said buses: Austin ISD – $95,550; Pettus ISD – $7,376; South Texas ISD – $63,380; and Dallas County Schools – $250,276.”

Beaumont Independent School District parents were instrumental in passing the legislation that would have called for seat belt installation in school buses after two West Brook High School student athletes were killed when the chartered bus they were traveling in was involved in an accident. The bus was not equipped with seat belts.

BISD never applied for the seat belt grant funds, according to Culbertson. BISD spokesperson Ron Reynolds confirmed that BISD never received any grant funding to install seat belts. BISD does, however, have seat belts installed in most of its buses, according to Reynolds. Of the 228 school buses in the BISD fleet, 122 are equipped with seat belts, he said.