Steamboat Springs State Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, is doing all she can to keep the Safe Routes to School grant alive in Routt County, including joining bipartisan forces on the House floor and, soon, the Senate floor.
In mid-March, the House Transportation and Energy Committee overwhelmingly passed House Bill 1301, a measure to renew funding for the program. The dollars are administered to local communities through the Colorado Department of Transportation.
Mitsch Bush said the Safe Routes to School program originally was federally funded. But when Congress made significant transportation cuts, the “alternative transportation” funding was all that was left, with no dollars set aside for Safe Routes to School.
“This is a proven program that has really made improvements not just in the obvious ways — safer routes, trails, underpasses and intersections, trail connections, etc.,” Mitsch Bush said Friday. “It also has gotten parents much more involved in schools. Parents get real excited about being involved in the younger grades, especially.”
The measure is for funding that all schools would need to apply for in order to receive the money. Steamboat Springs and Hayden schools have received the grant in recent years for physical improvements, such as sidewalks and trails to campus, as well as programs, such as funding presentations from local police departments.
In a letter following HB 1301’s passage in the House, Mitsch Bush discussed adhering to the 2014-15 budget’s limitations. She offered to significantly reduce funding for the Safe Routes to School grant, from the original $3 million request to $700,000, in order to keep the program afloat.
She said further cuts to the $700,000 request could happen, if need be.
“The bill is a funding bill,” Mitsch Bush said. “The program is already developed as a grant program, but it’s really up to the local schools, parents or nonprofits to do the grant. They get together and decide what they need and what will benefit their kids and neighborhoods.”
Because of limited funding, the grant can be very competitive, hence the reason South Routt saw no money from its application in the last granting, Mitsch Bush said. It takes multiple people and organizations to get involved, she said, including parents, teachers, town representatives and even students.
Since the grant started floating across Colorado districts in 2005, more than 700 schools have used the dollars in one way or another. In Mitsch Bush’s letter of support for HB 1301, she cites the various physical and cognitive benefits for keeping the Safe Routes to School program alive.
Not only can dollars go toward relieving drop-off and pick-up congestion at local schools, health studies from walking to school with or without parents, biking or other forms of alternative transportation show benefits inside the classroom, she said.
“These programs seem to boost academic readiness and success,” Mitsch Bush said. “MRI research shows their brains are stimulated. There is a link between physical activity and cognitive activity.”
When the grants are delegated, they take one of two forms. The first is an infrastructure grant, in which money is put toward structural improvements to sidewalks, trails or other routes to campus. The other is considered a non-infrastructure grant, like what Steamboat has received in the past for programs and materials such as reflective vests for crossing guards. Both types of grants can be applied for by schools at the same time.
More than 20 organizations and nonprofits have hopped on board for HB 1301’s support, including LiveWell Colorado, the American Heart Association and The Colorado Health Foundation.
Because fewer dollars requested for grants means fewer schools will receive them, campuses identified with the greatest need will be funded as required by the bill.
To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll