Under Section 121.54(2), Wisconsin Statutes, a pupil attending a public elementary or secondary school, including four- and five-year-old kindergarten, is entitled to transportation by the public school district in which the pupil resides if the pupil resides two or more miles from the nearest public school the pupil is entitled to attend.
School districts may also elect to provide transportation for pupils who are not required by law to be transported. If a school district elects to provide such transportation to some, but not to all such pupils, the law requires reasonable uniformity in the minimum distance that pupils attending public and private schools will be transported.
Certain school districts that contain all or part of a city may elect not to provide transportation services. This exception to the transportation requirement is referred to as the "City Option."
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Section 121.54(1), Wis. Stats., specifies that the provisions of state law requiring school districts to provide transportation to eligible public and private school pupils "do not apply to pupils who reside in a school district that contains all or part of a city unless the school they attend is located outside the city but within the boundaries of the school district." This exemption from the transportation requirement is not permitted for school districts that contain all or part of a first, second, or third class city with a population exceeding 40,000 unless transportation is available through a common carrier.
Some school districts elect to invoke the city option only for pupils in certain grade levels. For example, a school district may provide transportation for pupils in grades K-8, but not for pupils in grades 9-12.
Section 121.56, Wis. Stats., specifies that school districts have statutory authority with regard to the establishment, administration, and scheduling of school bus routes.
Under s. 121.54(2)(am), Wis. Stats., a school district may--but is not required to--transport a pupil for whom transportation is required to or from, or both, a before- and after-school day care program or other child care provider in lieu of transporting the child to and from his/her residence. The school district is not permitted to charge a fee for such transportation and may claim categorical transportation aid for such transportation.
S. 121.545(2), Wis. Stats., permits a school district to provide transportation for resident pupils whom the district is not required to transport, to/from a child care provider. The district may charge a fee for the cost of providing such transportation. The law specifies that the school board may waive the fee or any portion of the fee for any person who is unable to pay the fee. The school district may not claim categorical transportation aid for such transportation.
There are certain circumstances under which a child may attend a public school in a school district that is not the school district in which they live. These include students who pay tuition to attend school in another school district, those attending under the Public School Open Enrollment (or “public school choice”) Program, or tuition waiver, and those who live outside their school district of attendance on a part-time basis due to foster/out-of-home placement or a joint custody arrangement.
Generally, parents are responsible for providing transportation to and from school for students attending school under a tuition waiver or the public school open enrollment program. While school districts may provide some transportation for such students, the nonresident school district is prohibited from picking up or dropping off students within the boundaries of the resident school district without permission from the resident school district. Parents of students who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals may be eligible for reimbursement of their transportation costs. Additional information on this subject is available on the department’s open enrollment webpage.
If a child is living outside the school district where he/she is enrolled due to the child’s parents or guardians having joint legal custody, section 121.54(2)(e), Wis. Stats., specifies that upon the request of the parent, the school district must provide transportation for the student from/to an agreed-upon location within the school district. The school district may not charge a fee for such transportation. The school district of attendance is required to provide transportation for those students only within its boundaries. However, the district is not prohibited from picking up or dropping off such students at their homes outside the district’s boundaries.
Federal law (The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)) requires that children in foster or out-of-home care be provided transportation to the school of origin for the duration of the placement, See the DPI web page related to such transportation for additional detail.
School districts may choose to provide transportation to pupils for whom transportation is not required by law. Section 121.54(2)(c), Wis. Stats., specifies that "[a]n annual or special meeting of a common or union high school, or the school board of a unified school district, may elect to provide transportation for pupils who are not required to be transported." If a school district chooses to provide transportation to some, but not all, such pupils, the law provides that "there shall be reasonable uniformity in the minimum distance that pupils attending public and private schools will be transported."
For example, a school district that opts to provide transportation to pupils who live one mile or more from the nearest public school they are entitled to attend, must also provide transportation to private school pupils who live one mile or more from the school they attend and are otherwise eligible for transportation under s. 121.54(2)(b) 1., Wis.Stats.
In addition, s. 121.545(1), Wis. Stats., allows a school district to provide transportation to a pupil who attends a public or private school and is not required to be transported if the district receives a request from that pupil's parent or guardian. The school district may, but is not required to, provide transportation for such a pupil, and may charge a fee for the cost of providing the transportation. The school district may waive the fee, or any portion of it, for any person who is unable to pay. The law specifies that the school district does not receive state categorical transportation aid for such transportation.
DPI recognizes that the safest method of transporting pupils is in school buses. However, state law permits school districts to use a variety of methods to provide transportation services. Section 121.55(1), Wis. Stats., states that "school boards may provide transportation by any of the following methods:
- by contract with a common carrier, a taxi company, or other parties;
- by contract with the parent or guardian of the pupil to be transported;
- by contract with another school board, board of control of a cooperative educational service agency, or the proper officials of any private school or private school association;
- by contract between two or more school boards and an individual or a common carrier; or
- by the purchase and operation of a motor vehicle."
Therefore, pupil transportation services may be provided by the school district utilizing various methods including a yellow school bus or alternative vehicle, or a monetary payment pursuant to a contract with the child's parent/guardian. The method of transportation is determined by the school board, rather than by the parent/guardian of the student.
Section 121.555(1), Wis. Stats., permits school districts and private schools to provide pupil transportation services using "alternative vehicles," or vehicles other than school buses. Alternative vehicles fall into two categories:
- a motor vehicle transporting nine or less passengers in addition to the operator; and
- a motor vehicle transporting 10 or more passengers in addition to the operator and used temporarily to provide pupil transportation when the school board or governing body of the private school requests the Secretary of Transportation to determine that an emergency exists because no regular transportation is available. Use of such a vehicle would require written approval of the Secretary of Transportation.
Section 121.555(2), Wis. Stats., requires alternative vehicles to meet certain requirements relating to insurance and inspection. Drivers of alternative vehicles are not required to have a school bus endorsement on their operator's license. However, the driver must be at least 18 years old, possess a valid operator's license, and meet certain requirements relating to physical condition. In addition the driver must not have been convicted of specified crimes relating to the operation of a motor vehicle.
See Requirements for Alternative Vehicle Drivers for additional information.