Fewer Than Half of Alabama School Buses Have Air Conditioning
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The Alabama State Board of Education is considering requesting additional funds from the Alabama Legislature to install air conditioning in state school buses, the majority of which are currently without it.
During the Board’s meeting on September 14, members discussed the possibility of seeking a one-time supplemental bill to address the needs of districts with the greatest requirement for new buses.
Eric Mackey, the state superintendent, suggested the idea of allocating additional funding for bus fleet renewal with a specific focus on replacing buses that lack air conditioning.
According to data from the Alabama State Department of Education, only 48% of buses in the state are equipped with air conditioning. Chad Carpenter, the transportation specialist for ALSDE, explained in an interview that the interior temperature of buses can be up to 20 degrees hotter than the external temperature.
Carpenter drew a comparison between school buses and private cars, recalling that in the past, car buyers had the option to purchase vehicles with or without air conditioning. Many opted for vehicles without air conditioning due to cost considerations. However, as technology advanced, air conditioning became more affordable and eventually became a standard feature in cars.
He speculated that it wouldn’t be surprising if air conditioning on school buses becomes a standard requirement in the coming years.
Last summer was recorded as the hottest season since 1880, as reported by NASA. Josh Willis, a climate scientist and oceanographer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, attributed the high temperatures to long-term global warming and marine heat waves, coupled with the weather phenomenon known as El Nino, which causes warmer surface waters in the central and eastern Pacific.
Prior to 2023, the hottest summer in Alabama occurred in 1883, as stated by Weather Underground.
During the board meeting, Mackey emphasized that all special education buses in the state are legally mandated to have air conditioning, a requirement that has been in place for some time.
He stated, "It’s not a new requirement. I can’t say for certain that there isn’t one somewhere, but I would be extremely surprised if there’s a special education bus in the state without air conditioning."
According to data provided by the Alabama State Department of Education, only a small number of school districts or charter schools had no buses equipped with air conditioning during the 2022-23 school year.
Daleville City, with 14 bus routes, had no buses with air conditioning. Similarly, Elba City, Fairfield City, Jacksonville City, Orange Beach City, Troy City, and Tuscumbia City had no buses with air conditioning on their respective routes. Life Academy also had no air conditioning on their three bus routes.
Under Alabama law, city school systems have the authority to purchase their own school buses, whereas county school systems are responsible for providing transportation. City school systems and charter schools are only obligated to offer transportation services to students with special education needs, as stated by Al.com.
Senator Arthur Orr, the chairman of the Senate Finance and Taxation Education committee, expressed that there has been no discussion regarding supplemental funding for buses thus far.
He stated, "As legislators, we are one of the final stages in the appropriations process, so it’s still early to determine whether this will be a top priority for the education community."
Mackey informed board members that they were able to obtain a one-time supplemental appropriation of approximately $130 million last year to purchase new buses. The districts with the highest need, Wilcox County and Shelby County, received the largest allocations to purchase buses with air conditioning. Currently, 18.73% of Shelby County’s buses (59 out of 319 bus routes) are air conditioned, while 62.16% of Wilcox County’s buses (23 out of 37 bus routes) have air conditioning.
Alabama Reflector is a part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Alabama Reflector maintains editorial independence. For any inquiries, please contact Editor Brian Lyman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay updated with Alabama Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.
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