Gov. Doug Ducey is giving Tucson’s two largest school districts over $4.5 million to replace 41 old school buses, thanks to settlement funds from the Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust.
The districts, Tucson Unified and Sunnyside Unified, are among 22 Arizona school districts benefiting from the $38 million school bus settlement plan, according to a press release from the Governor’s Office.
This is the second time the governor has allocated settlement funds — the first time was last December.
TUSD will receive $3.52 million — nearly half of the $8.4 million allocated for distribution in phase two. The money will allow the district to replace 32 old school buses with new ones that run on diesel and other alternative fuels. Sunnyside will get $990,000, which will replace nine buses.
Volkswagen agreed to pay almost $57 million in settlement funds to the state of Arizona after it was discovered the German automaker had cheated emissions tests and deceived consumers, according to the Governor’s Office website.
TUSD and Sunnyside had to apply for the funds last fall. Only districts with 60 percent or more of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch could apply, and buses could only be considered for replacement if they had clocked over 100,000 miles and were older than 15 years.
TUSD and Sunnyside — districts serving high percentages of students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds — fit the bill.
Flowing Wells is the only other Pima County school district to have received settlement funding for buses so far. The Governor’s Office gave the district $220,000 to replace two buses the first time it distributed funds.
There is a catch — the districts cannot continue to use the buses being replaced. They must be “destroyed” because they don’t meet current emissions standards, according to Patrick Ptak, a spokesman for Ducey.
Before the recession, school districts relied on capital funding from the state to purchase tangible items like school buses, books and buildings. But Arizona started slashing capital funding, year after year, as the recession strained the state budget.
Ducey continued the pattern. When he took office in 2015, he cut capital funding — known as District and Charter Additional Assistance — by $116 million.
The state still hasn’t fully restored recession-era capital cuts, according to reports from the Arizona Daily Star. Ducey, despite funneling $100 million into capital funding in last year’s budget, hasn’t restored the cuts he made in 2015.
The capital funding cuts have left Arizona’s public school districts struggling to replace broken, old buses, textbooks, leaky roofs, fire alarm systems and more.
Due to a lack of support from the state, districts have had to ask homeowners to fund capital projects with increased property taxes in bond elections.