WHILE the State government has agreed to implement several recommendations from the recent review into the State's School Bus Services (SBS), a regional MP who helped prompt the inquiry, is concerned about whether some regional bus routes will be sacrificed to fund new, additional routes.
The Nationals WA MP for Roe and spokesperson for education Peter Rundle campaigned for the review into the bus services after receiving numerous complaints from parents and schools, particularly in relation to where a bus stops and how a student's eligibility is determined.
Transport Minister Rita Saffioti requested the Public Accounts Committee conduct the SBS inquiry 'Bus fair' and the group's final report, including its 40 recommendations, were released in August last year.
Earlier this month, more than a year on, the minister said a number of the report's recommendations would be implemented for the 2024 school year.
Ms Saffioti said the changes were designed to broaden the eligibility of families able to receive transport assistance, as well as providing them with more flexibility when planning their children's schooling.
Key differences to the eligibility requirements include allowing students to attend either their nearest district or senior high school rather than just their closest school; more flexibility for social and community factors to be considered in an application for transport assistance; and allowing eligible students to receive transport assistance to travel to a regional town to attend their selected school.
Mr Rundle will be keeping a close eye on the potential reduction of some school bus runs.
"As I understand it, they are going to have to add one or two services to Albany to work in with the report's recommendations, but we don't want to see bus runs in other areas sacrificed to help with the budget for that, especially when we have a government that has a surplus of $5 billion," Mr Rundle said.
"Currently 90 minutes is the maximum travel time for students, but we also don't want five and six-year-old students progressing through a 90 minute travel time just to reduce one bus run."
While he is pleased the minister has agreed to implementing several of the report's recommendations, Mr Rundle said one of the most important changes for regional and rural families was for services to take into account social, economic, financial and community factors when determining a student's nearest appropriate school in the future.
"We know quite often families are attached to their communities and want to make sure that their kids attend the school that they belong to, even if they are on the wrong side of some invisible line in the sand, so it's good to hear that will be taken into account," he said.
As part of the changes set to be introduced, in a situation where families reside outside the traditional catchment area for a school bus, transport assistance may be in the form of a conveyance allowance to meet the bus on route or the payment of a conveyance to drive a student to school where no service exists.
The State government has also agreed to implement the 'Secondary School Election Rule', whereby a student that completes year 6 at a primary school (that's not part of a school offering secondary year levels) will be eligible for transport assistance to either their nearest appropriate senior high school or nearest appropriate district high school for year 7.
"That change is particularly useful for somewhere like Darkan, where families who live a short distance either side of the town can be in four different district high school catchment areas in different directions," Mr Rundle said.
"Using Darkan as an example, quite often families want their child to go to Collie Senior High School from year 7 through to year 12, but under the previous guidelines they were being forced to go to a district high school for three or four years and then swap across to the senior high school.
"So hopefully this change will provide an opportunity for some families to modify their schooling situation so they can have more continuity."
Mr Rundle said he was still progressing through some of the other recommendations made in the Bus Fair report that were not included in the minister's announcement.
All relevant information about the application process, and the changes to eligibility conditions, will be made available on the School Bus Services website.