Transporting your students to and from school may seem like a detail that can wait until later in your planning process. However, it is a detail that can impact many other aspects of your school’s operation and should not be considered an afterthought. For example, the transportation approach you choose can affect your budget, your staffing requirements, where you house your school and how your school schedule is configured.

In this section we discuss

  • State and local requirements
  • Options and their pros and cons
  • Helpful hints
  • Places to go for more information

State law: 
According to MN Stats 124D.10, charter schools have two main options for transporting students:

  • Provide their own transportation.
  • Use the transportation services of the district within which the charter school is located.

Charter schools are required to pick only one of these options and cannot combine them.

The state provides schools with funds for transportation. In fiscal year 2004, schools were eligible to receive $223 per student in transportation aid. Although every pupil generates the same revenue, school districts are only required to provide transportation to students who live more than 2 miles from the school and live within the district boundaries. Charter schools must provide transportation options to all enrolled students. This is an important issue for charter schools that often attract students from across a wide number of school districts. Again, the district is only required to provide transportation within the district boundary. If a charter elects to have the district provide transportation, they will generally only provide transportation within their boundaries and charter schools must arrange alternate transportation for students outside the district’s busing route. Students cannot be dropped off from outside the district at a district bus stop by parents – the charter school is responsible for transporting those students. For budgeting purposes, it is imporant to note that the $223 is part of the general education basic revenue amount of $4,601, not in addition to this amount – these dollars go directly to the transportation providers. Additional “sparsity revenue” revenue may be available to some charter schools in rural areas (see resources section for more information).

Charter schools must notify the state and their resident districts annually of their transportation choices – no later than July 1; although the MDE recommends an earlier date of March 1. A form/survey for completion is distributed by the state.

Charter schools are required to enter the appropriate MARSS Transportation Code on the student file and must provide annual school bus safety training to students (twice per year for kindergarteners.)

If a charter school provides its own transportation, the school is required to complete the year-end pupil transportation annual report showing the number of buses used and the annual mileage.

Local ordinances: 
Local ordinances about parking and loading and unloading of buses may affect a charter school’s transportation plan and site selection process. Some local governments may have restrictions and some situations may be dangerous or undesirable for loading and unloading students. The Department of Education recommends that before signing a building lease, the school meet with city/county public works staff to discuss the following issues:

  • Are school buses allowed to stop on the streets around the site or must they load and unload in a parking area?
  • Will street loading and unloading interfere with rush hour traffic? If so, what times will be impacted?
  • Will businesses or residents in the area ask the city to limit the times and places where buses can unload and load?
  • Will the loading and unloading, block access to alleys or other private drives?
  • Will signs need to be installed to alert motorists and others that there is a bus loading/unloading area on the street?
  • Is there an area for buses to stack up – waiting to either load or unload?

More about Options:

Using the District
Many charter schools opt to use the district provided transportation services. Some pros and cons of this arrangement include:

Pros Cons
School district handles all required transportation needs for eligible resident students, including special education students. District determines which days and what times buses will arrive and depart each day.District only provides transportation to students RESIDING within district boundaries.
May simplify financial arrangements relating to transportation, $223 will be sent directly to the district from the state. District receives all transportation revenue generated.
Costs for transportation generally exceed state revenue for this purpose. If the district provides transportation they will be responsible for all costs even if they exceed the state revenue provided.

If a charter school plans to use district provided transportation, the Department of Education provides the following advice:

  • Contact the District as soon as possible, as this may result in better routes and drop-off pick-up times
  • Don’t be afraid to meet early with the District transportation staff, before you sign a building lease. Even if you decide not to use this method, district transportation staff may be helpful in working through the transportation issues you will face.
  • Be prepared to be flexible about drop-off and pick-up times.

Charter School Provided Transportation
If a charter school elects to provide their own transportation, there are several options:

  • Contract with the district in which the charter school is located (Minnesota New Country School uses this option)
  • Contract with another school district
  • Contract with a privately owned school bus company
  • Contract with parents of the students (money paid to parents is based on their respective household incomes)
  • Purchase bus passes from a public transit agency (only recommended for secondary students)
  • Purchase school buses or vans (Coon Rapids Learning Center purchased and uses vans and PACT Charter owns its own buses)
Pros Cons
Ability to determine start and end times and school calendar. Full cost of providing transportation must be borne by the school, even if it exceeds state revenue for this purpose (which it usually does).
May have access to transportation method for field trips and other non-authorized transportation services. Additional coordination may be required at the school level in order to handle transportation responsibilities, including a year-end report to the state.
School receives full amount of transportation revenue. Purchase of vehicles can be complicated and a number of issues need to be addressed (see below).
School will be responsible for making its own arrangements for special education students that include transportation needs in their IEP.

Special considerations if a charter school chooses to purchase vehicles/buses:
The Minnesota Department of Education suggests that a school consider the following issues before purchasing buses:

  • Storage. Where will the buses be stored?
  • Maintenance.
  • Driver Training and Federally-Mandated Drug Testing.
  • Liability Insurance

If a school is considering the purchase of vans, the size of the vans is restricted to a manufacturer rated seating capacity of 10 passengers or less. Larger vans are not deemed safe because of weak sidewalls and roll over issues. Even though van drivers are not required to undergo drug testing, most districts require drivers to take these tests anyway.

Some helpful hints:

  • If a school elects to contract with parents to provide transportation, consider paying by the mile instead of the child since some households may contain more than one student.
  • If a school contracts with a district or a private school bus company make sure that expectations are clearly laid out in a written contract and that the contract includes an escape clause.
  • If a school elects to have students use public transportation, the school can often receive a discount by purchasing bus passes centrally rather than having individual students take responsibility for the purchase.
  • Check in with other charters in the area about cooperating on a transportation approach. While one school may not be able to afford alternatives to district provided transportation, several schools working together may be able to come up with a workable, cost-effective approach.

Linda Schroeder, Minnesota Department of Education, Pupil Transportation, 651-582-8855 General transportation questions.

Bob Fisher, Minnesota Department of Education, Pupil Transportation, 651-582-8776 General transportation questions.

Bob Porter, Minnesota Department of Education, 651-582-8851 or Sparsity aid questions.

Duane Bartels, Minnesota State Patrol, School Bus Inspections,

Minnesota School Bus Operator’s Association, or 320-274-8313.