Colorado Transportation Innovation Grant Program 

Sponsors: Reps. Larson, Young | Sens. Zenzinger, Simpson

1) Problem:

A nationwide shortage of bus drivers is causing significant challenges in helping students get to school. Some large school districts like Jefferson County are experiencing at least a 20% decrease in their workforce. Initial research into shortages among other Colorado districts suggests that statewide the shortage of bus drivers is around 30 percent.

Additionally, there is a need for transportation to off-site CTE programs, internships, apprenticeships and other career connected learning opportunities. Currently, Colorado does not provide equitable transportation access to career connected learning opportunities.

Current school district transportation systems are inefficient and insufficient to meet the needs of Colorado students.

As Colorado continues to expand educational opportunities for low-income students, communities of color, and those who have been traditionally underserved, transportation systems need to be modernized to meet the unique educational needs of all students.

2) Current Programs/Background: 

Colorado state law does not require districts to offer school transportation services at all, though many do offer bus service or subsidized transit passes.

A growing number of CTE/career connected learning opportunities that take place off site or in surrounding school districts require transportation. Some rural school districts like Peyton, Widefield, and others in the Colorado Springs area have partnered to offer transportation services to students so that they can access different CTE pathways.

Partnerships among school districts are also occurring to increase access to a growing number of “innovation centers.” The new Cherry Creek Innovation Campus, for example, allows students from neighboring school districts including Englewood, Sheridan and Littleton to access CTE pathways such as airplane maintenance, auto repair, nursing and construction. Similarly, Warren Tech in Jefferson County provides CTE courses to numerous surrounding rural school districts, such as Clear Creek. Districts are currently limited in the number of students they can serve because of limited transportation dollars and no incentives to help students from neighboring school districts. With this innovative transportation grant fund, more students could participate in high-quality career pathways.

3) Solution:

Authorize a competitive grant designed to address transit solutions and improve access to safe and reliable transportation options or develop transit innovations and efficiency solutions for public school students, including students wanting to access college and career pathway opportunities.

Similar to the RISE grant program administered by Gov. Polis’ office, the grant is meant to foster locally driven, innovative solutions knowing that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to our current transportation challenges.

The creation and funding of this grant program will permit districts to experiment with more cost-efficient transportation options and it enables the state to assess the potential cost savings to public schools.

The grant program should be as expansive and creative as possible in examining and experimenting with innovative transportation options.

Ten million dollars will be allocated to the grant from the Revenue Restoration Cash Fund (federal funds the Legislature allocated for future use). Grantees must spend all funds by Dec. 31, 2024 to comply with federal guidelines.

Eligible applicants: 

  • The grant will be open to public schools, districts, consortia of public school districts or schools, BOCES, local governments, and organizations that form innovative community partnerships with public schools.

Priority will be given to:

  • Rural districts and schools
  • Districts and schools serving high shares of students in poverty (above the state average)

Eligible uses (but not limited to):

  • Developing creative collaborations with public schools and community partners to identify solutions to better ensure students’ safe and effective passage to school and to career connected learning opportunities
  • Supporting a consortia of school districts wanting to offer transportation services to students in order to expand access to CTE pathways
  • Developing and funding carpool strategies
  • Developing or contracting with rideshare programs
  • Developing options for reducing costs and improving efficiencies while improving access to transit options for families, such as exploring the use of fleet vehicles or vans or using the latest technology to lead to more efficient routing
  • Developing more Wi-Fi-enabled transportation options, including innovative strategies that bring more Wi-Fi access to underserved neighborhoods
  • Developing innovative options to address personnel shortages or challenges
  • Developing incentive programs to recruit and retain bus drivers.
  • Partnering with local transit authorities to improve routes to serve families and increase their rider share as well as stipends to cover transit fare to assist students in accessing college and career pathway opportunities
  • Implementing a hub and spoke transportation model

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