Our office recently released a brief, The 2017-18 Budget: Governor’s Criminal Fine and Fee Proposals, which provides information about the various programs affected by the steady decline in criminal fine and fee revenue deposited into the State Penalty Fund since 2008-09. This post provides more detailed information about the Bus Driver Training Program, one of the affected programs.
California Department of Education (CDE) Administers School Transportation Programs. CDE’s Office of School Transportation provides various services to support school bus transportation for students. The office employs eight people and is housed at the West Sacramento California Highway Patrol (CHP) Academy.
CDE Runs School Bus Driver Training Program. One of the primary services CDE provides in the transportation area is a school bus driver training program. State law requires all school bus driver instructors to be certified by CDE. Instructors become certified by completing a training program developed and regularly updated by CDE. The department certifies about 80 instructors annually and usually offers its training program five times per year, depending on demand. The training program is three-weeks long and consists of a mix of classroom and driving instruction. The department holds the courses at the West Sacramento CHP Academy. To enroll in the instructor program, a person already must be a certified California school bus driver. Typically, school districts sponsor drivers to participate in the training program. In these cases, the sponsor pays the training fee of about $1,000 on behalf of the driver, with the expectation that the driver will come back to its district to teach school bus driving courses. (In addition, state law requires bus drivers that transport farm laborers to complete this training program if they want to instruct other such bus drivers. These drivers typically are sponsored by agriculture companies and enroll in the same training program as school bus drivers with a few modifications.)
Office Performs Other Activities. In addition to training bus driver instructors, CDE’s Office of School Transportation performs various other activities. Its employees regularly travel throughout the state to perform in-person evaluations of certain types of bus driver instructors who need to be certified in their own vehicle. While they are onsite evaluating bus drivers, CDE employees also provide technical assistance to transportation administrators. For example, they provide training on new safety requirements. In addition, from their West Sacramento headquarters, CDE employees verify that instructor certifications are up-to-date and instructors are complying with ongoing professional development requirements. For some of these additional activities, the office charges fees. For example, the office charges a recertification fee for bus driver instructors whose certifications that elapsed.
CDE’s Transportation Office Supported by State Penalty Fund and Fee Revenue. In 2016-17, CDE’s transportation office received about $1,683,000 in revenue and spent about $1,440,000. On the revenue side, the Governor estimated that the office would receive total funding of $1,583,000 million from the State Penalty Fund. In addition, the office has the authority to charge fees for its certification courses and other services and generated about $100,000 in fee revenue that year. The bulk of fee revenue comes from the school bus driver instructor course. The office’s expenditures consist of (1) staff salaries (about $900,000 annually), (2) lease costs for working out of the CHP facility in West Sacramento (about $300,000 annually), (3) lodging in West Sacramento for drivers attending the bus driver training program (about $80,000 annually), (4) costs for staff to travel to regions for evaluations and technical assistance (about $60,000 annually), and (5) various other costs (about $100,000).
Office Typically Does Not Spend All Its Revenue. CDE indicates that its transportation office annually leaves about $200,000 unspent. Of this amount, about $100,000 in total State Penalty Fund revenue goes unspent. The unspent amount generally reverts back to the fund and is reappropriated for State Penalty Fund programs each year. In addition to not spending all its State Penalty Fund revenue, CDE estimates that the office typically carries over almost all of its fee revenue (about $100,000). Over time, it has built up a reserve of about $500,000 from this revenue source.
Governor Proposes to Reduce State Penalty Fund Support for Office. The Governor proposes to reduce total State Penalty Fund support for CDE’s transportation office by $545,000—from an estimated $1,583,000 in 2016-17 to $1,038,000 in 2017-18. The Governor does not propose any associated programmatic changes or reductions in staffing levels, leaving these decisions to CDE. Because CDE’s transportation office does not spend all its existing revenue each year, the reduction in effect is smaller than the Governor portrays. If the CDE spends all of its proposed funding from the State Penalty Fund and the $100,000 in fee revenue, total 2017-18 spending would be $1,138,000. This would be a 20 percent reduction.
Various Options for Responding to Proposed Cut. We believe CDE has various reasonable options for responding to the Governor’s proposal. These options include raising more fee revenue and decreasing programs costs. Regarding fees, CDE’s transportation office has kept fee levels flat since 2008. To increase revenue to support the program, CDE could use its fee authority to increase what school districts (and agriculture companies) pay for the instructional part of its bus driver training program. Additionally, CDE could require sponsors to pay for all or a portion of their drivers’ accommodations during their stays in West Sacramento. CDE also could offer some of the training curriculum online and shorten the onsite portion of its program, in turn, likely reducing both instructional and lodging costs. CDE could adopt any combination of these or other options to respond to the proposed reduction.
Recommend CDE Provide Plan for Addressing Cut in Budget Hearings. Prior to taking action on the Governor’s proposal, we recommend the Legislature ask CDE to present options during spring budget hearings for how it would accommodate the decrease in State Penalty Fund revenue. Having such a plan would help the Legislature in weighing its options, including how to weigh this proposal against the Governor’s other proposals involving the State Penalty Fund.