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As reported earlier this week here on FAA News, State lawmakers are working on revamping the Lakewood Student Transportation Authority (LSTA).

These efforts were formally advanced today.

There are two key issues facing our current setup:

1) Currently, school transportation can only be provided directly through a school district. If, say a Jackson student requires busing to Lakewood, the Lakewood school district cannot provide busing.

2) In Lakewood, the Lakewood Student Transportation Authority (LSTA) - which is a private entity - operates as the contractor to the Lakewood Board of Education to manage the bussing for non-public schools. The LSTA has been plagued with many complaints regarding mismanagement. Many of the complaints are rooted in the fact that, as a private entity the LSTA does not have the same legal responsibility of transparency as the Lakewood Board of Education has. (As previously reported here on FAA News, a Superior Court judge ordered the Lakewood School District to appear in court to respond to a lawsuit over their refusal to release public records relating to their contract with the LSTA).

The Assembly Education Committee today advanced legislation that seeks to address both of these issues.

The bill, A5412, sponsored by Assemblyman Louis D. Greenwald, establishes a statewide nonpublic school transportation program to provide funding to consortiums of nonpublic schools that will assume responsibility for mandated nonpublic school busing.

This bill would essentially replace the "Lakewood-community based" LSTA with a new "statewide-run" consortium. The new consortium would be established by the Commissioner of Education.

It appears that any school district statewide that provides transportation services to nonpublic schools would be eligible to join the consortium. I.e., This bill will allow children from various school districts to pool together under a consortium and have busing provided to all of them.

Under the program, a participating school district will disburse to the consortium an amount equal to the aid in-lieu-of transportation amount (currently set at $1,022) for each nonpublic school pupil who is attending a nonpublic school which is a part of the consortium and who is required by law to be transported by a school district. The consortium is to assume the responsibilities of transporting the pupils for whom it receives the aid in-lieu-of transportation amount.

The bill provides that if the per pupil cost of the lowest bid received exceeds the aid in-lieu-of transportation amount, the parent or guardian of the student will be eligible to receive the aid in-lieu-of transportation amount from the consortium for that school year.

In addition to providing transportation for students who are mandated to be transported, the consortium may provide non-mandated busing to students attending the nonpublic schools that are a part of the consortium, provided that the parents or guardians of those students pay all of the costs of that transportation.

At the end of the school year, the consortium will refund to individual participating school districts a portion of the aid-in-lieu-of amount the district provided to the consortium for a nonpublic school student who did not receive transportation for the entire school year. If any unexpended funds remain, the bill requires the consortium to allocate that amount among the school districts in proportion to the number of nonpublic school pupils for whom the school district distributed funds to the consortium.

The bill requires the Commissioner of Education to establish a committee to oversee the operations of each consortium in implementing the program.  The oversight committee will consist of five members appointed by the commissioner, one of whom must represent a nonpublic school that is part of the consortium, and one of whom must represent a school district that is participating in the program. Under the provisions of the bill, the consortium is required to annually enter into a contract with an independent entity to audit the implementation of the program and the audit is required to be submitted to the commissioner no later than December 1 of each year.

The bill takes effect immediately and provides that the program will first be applicable in the 2023-2024 school year.

Senator Vin Gopal has introduced a twin bill in the Senate. The bill awaits consideration from the Senate Education Committee.

The bill would need to first pass the full Assembly and Senate before it can head to the governor for final approval.

As previously reported here on FAA News, back in October 2022, Assembly GOP member Alex Sauickie who represents Jackson Township also introduced legislation (A4461) to address the bussing situation.

Sauickie's bill has not yet advanced through the Legislature.

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