The purpose of this technical advisory is to interpret, clarify, and provide guidance about the obligations to provide transportation to charter school students and the reimbursement programs currently available to charter schools for the provision of transportation services. Charter schools and school districts are strongly encouraged to work cooperatively to ensure that all eligible students receive the appropriate transportation services. Charter school leaders should identify when and how the district's local school committee sets its budget so that they can proactively inform the superintendent and school committee of the charter school's needs in a timely manner.
The Massachusetts charter school statute, M.G.L. c. 71, § 89(cc), states that the
"children who reside in the school district in which the charter school is located shall be provided transportation to the charter school by the resident district's school committee on the same terms and conditions as transportation is provided to children attending local district schools. In providing such transportation, said school committee shall accommodate the particular school day and school year of the charter school; provided, however, that in the event that a school committee limits transportation for district school students, the school district shall not be required to provide transportation to any commonwealth charter school beyond said limitations. A charter school and the sending district shall meet to plan bus routes and charter school starting and ending times in order to assist the district with cost effective means of transportation."
(Emphasis added). The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) has consistently interpreted this language to require both municipal and regional school districts to provide transportation to students who reside in the district and who attend a charter school located within the district. In the event that a district is not meeting its obligations to provide transportation for eligible students, a charter school should contact the Department's Office of Charter School and School Redesign for more information. A charter school may choose voluntarily to provide transportation to some or all of its eligible students in lieu of the district of residence. In these cases, the charter school will receive reimbursement as described below in Transportation Reimbursement for Commonwealth Charter Schools.
The meaning of particular phrases follows.
The phrase "school district" refers to the school district within which the charter school is physically located. For a municipal school district, the charter school must be located within the municipality's boundaries. For a regional school district, the charter school must be located within the boundaries of the regional school district and its member municipalities.
"On the same terms and conditions"
The phrases "on the same terms and conditions" and subject to the same limitations means that there should be no significant differences in the transportation services offered to students attending district schools and students attending charter schools. A school district that provides transportation to students attending its own schools beyond what is legally required to provide, it must provide transportation to charter school students on the same basis. If a school district charges a reasonable fee to students attending its own schools that it is not legally required to transport, the school district may charge the same reasonable fee to charter school students who are similarly situated. Drop-off and pick-up distances and riding times to and from the charter school should be comparable to those of students attending district schools.
Districts that utilize neighborhood zones to establish eligibility for transportation services for its students, however, may not impose a geographical zone around a charter school and limit transportation for students attending the charter school to only those students who reside within this zone. See 603 CMR 1.07(3)(a). Charter schools are district-wide schools whose "zone" is the entire school district, such as a single high school or vocational school. The school district's obligations to transport students who attend a charter school extend to all students who reside within the school district because all students who reside within the school district within which the charter school is located have a similar opportunity to attend the charter school.
"Accommodate the particular school year and school day of the charter school"
The schedule of a charter school is a material term of the schools charter as granted by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Board). A charter school can change this term only by requesting, and receiving approval for, an amendment from the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education (Commissioner). Schedules of charter schools may deviate significantly, including early dismissals and extended programming, from that of the districts in which they are located. Nevertheless, the law requires that the school district make arrangements to accommodate the charter school's schedule, even if that requires scheduling additional bus runs at times when the district normally does not pick-up or drop-off students. The charter school statute requires, and Department strongly encourages, charter schools to work cooperatively with their local school districts. If a change in a school's schedule as described is desired, the charter school should consider requesting an amendment, as appropriate, to its charter in order to achieve the most cost-efficient transportation, particularly when transporting small numbers of students.
The table that follows summarizes the types of charter school students who are eligible for free transportation services under state and federal law.
Charter schools may seek reimbursement for transportation services through two reimbursement programs. First, if a Commonwealth charter school chooses to transport children who reside in the district in which the school is physically located, it may seek reimbursement as indicated in Transportation Reimbursement for Commonwealth Charter Schools. Second, if a regional charter school transports students who reside outside of the district in which the school is physically located but within the region specified in the school's charter, it may seek reimbursement as indicated in Transportation Reimbursement for Regional Charter Schools.
A charter school may choose to transport students who reside in the district in which the school is located and seek reimbursement for the costs incurred if the district and the charter school are unable to reach agreement on the district's provision of transportation. See 603 CMR 1.07(3)(c). If the charter school receives reimbursement, the amount is determined by multiplying the eligible pupil full-time equivalency (FTE) by a reimbursement rate determined for particular charter school. The eligible pupil FTE is determined by the dates of enrollment for each student who is eligible for transportation, as provided to the Department by the charter school on the February 15th Charter School Claim Form. The reimbursement rate is the lesser of the district or charter school's average transportation cost per student. In general, the data used to generate average cost per student is based on transportation costs for the prior school year as submitted by both the charter school and the district. The charter school provides this data on Schedule 7Cin the Charter School End of Year Financial Report. The district provides transportation data on Schedule 7 of the End of Year Pupil and Financial Report. If a charter school is in its first year of providing new or substantially different transportation services, however, no comparable prior year data may be available. Under these circumstances, in order to be eligible for reimbursement, the charter school must contact the Office of Charter Schools and School Redesign prior to the provision of transportation for further instructions.
The Department's Pupil Transportation Guide: A Guide for Massachusetts School Administrators provides guidance regarding the types of costs that are potentially eligible for reimbursement. These costs include the annual cost of leased bus services based on the cost of fuel, operation, and common line maintenance of school buses; salaries of student transportation supervisors, school bus drivers, and bus monitors; employee benefits; insurance programs; and other related expenditures. Schools that own vehicles should refer to the Guidelines when determining their transportation expenditures.
Reimbursement of eligible transportation costs is distributed to charter schools in the same manner as their monthly tuition payments. If in the previous school year a charter school receives reimbursement for local district pupil transportation, the school will receive a proportionate amount of this reimbursement in the first five tuition payments of the fiscal year, paid July through November. No payments are made for transportation in December through May. Once ridership data is received and reviewed, as part of the February 15th Charter School Claim Form data collection, the charter school will receive any balance due as part of its final tuition payment in June.
In order to be eligible to seek reimbursement through the regional transportation reimbursement program, a charter school must:
Eligibility for regional transportation reimbursement also requires the charter school to provide the transportation free of charge to students who live more than 2 miles from the school. While the charter school may charge a transportation fee to students who live 1½ to 2 miles from the school, the Department discourages doing so, and such fees are removed from the transportation costs claimed for reimbursement.2 It is uncommon for regional school districts to charge a transportation fee to students who live more than 1½ miles from their school.
A charter school that claims state regional transportation aid reimbursement may maintain a waitlist for buses provided that the school ensures any student who lives more than 2 miles from the school receives transportation.
A regional charter school meeting these conditions may seek reimbursement of the costs of transporting students who reside outside the district in which the charter is located and 1½ miles or more from the charter school. See M.G.L. c. 71, § 89(cc), and M.G.L. c. 71, § 16C. Reimbursement is made in the year following the school year in which the costs are incurred. For example, eligible costs incurred during the 2015-2016 school year are reimbursed during the 2016-2017 school year.
Please note that this reimbursement program is funded through line item in the state budget and is subject to appropriation. It has been funded at varying levels, from 57 percent to 71 percent of the costs eligible for reimbursement, from FY10 through FY15. If funding is less than 100 percent, reimbursement is determined by multiplying the total allowable claimed costs by the funding percentage permitted by the appropriation. The cost data for this program is also collected on the Schedule 7C in the Charter School End of Year Financial Report.
Questions about information contained in this advisory should be directed to the Department's Office of Charter Schools and School Redesign or the School Finance and District Support Office.
1 A regional charter school that provides transportation to students who reside within the district in which the school is located may seek reimbursement for those students as indicated in Transportation Reimbursement for Commonwealth Charter Schools.
2 While a regional charter school may choose to provide transportation to regular education students who live less than 1½ miles from school, it may not seek reimbursement for these transportation costs. It may, however, charge a transportation fee to such students.
Last Updated: January 30, 2019
Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
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