Governor Inslee allows school districts to pay bus drivers while students learn from home

Relieved, that is likely how most public school bus drivers are feeling after Governor Jay Inslee issued a proclamation allowing school districts to utilize transportation dollars to deliver technology and study materials to help kids succeed during remote learning.

Concerns over funding forced some school districts to tell their bus drivers to prepare to lose their jobs. It all comes down to how state law requires school districts fund their transportation programs. Until Inslee made the latest change, school bus drivers worried districts wouldn’t be able to afford to pay them.

“I’ve had kids come on my bus and tell me, ‘I’m hungry,’ said bus driver Judith Mitchell-Ballard.

Judith said she loves being a bus driver in the Bethel School District in the South Sound.

Her bus would be filled with kids, instead, it’s been empty and she says and she misses them.

“I’ve been delivering lunches,” said Mr. Bell who works for a neighboring district as a bus driver.

Back in the spring when social distancing and face-covering mandates were more relaxed, the Franklin Pierce School District delivered meals to kids that normally got fed on campus.

“Delivering food was a God send, as well as all of the students who need them,” he added.

At the begging of the pandemic, officials waived a requirement that funded school district transportation programs based on the number of kids being shuttled to and from school.

Districts could continue making those deliveries this fall but were told the costs may have had to be reimbursed.

On Wednesday, Inslee issued new guidance that allows districts to continue delivering technology, lesson materials and meals to needy kids without violating the law.

“Our drivers are eager to deliver those materials and they are much needed for many factors,” said Heather Gunderson who works for a South Sound school district.

But now comes another challenge, beginning the new school year the same way the last one ended – from a distance.

All while many bus drivers hope Inslee’s announcement means they won’t be furloughed or laid off.

“Hopefully I’ll be back and I’ll be driving a bus making a connection,” said Mitchell-Ballard.

One of the largest employee unions for public school employees praised Inslee’s decision.

The Washington Education Association said the proclamation would ensure district officials state-wide know transportation funding through the fall would remain on solid ground.