AUSTIN (KXAN) - Labeling the Texas Education Agency a "renegade agency," a state lawmaker is calling on Gov. Rick Perry to intervene in the latest threat to the Texas School Bus Seat Belt Program.
In a state funding listserv email sent Oct. 22 to school districts, the TEA said, "Texas school districts and open-enrollment charter schools are not required…to purchase school buses with three-point belts."
Watch the original KXAN investigation .
The state legislature allocated $10 million in the 2009 legislative session to provide reimbursement to school districts purchasing new school buses after Sept. 1, 2010. The law was signed by the governor in June 2007.
Section 547.701(e) of the Texas Transportation Code states: "a bus operated by or contracted for use by a school district for the transportation of schoolchildren shall be equipped with a three-point seat belt for each passenger, including the operator."
The TEA email cites Texas Transportation Code, 547.701(f), which says, "A school district is required to comply with Subsection (e) only to the extent that the Texas Education Agency pays or commits to pay the district for expenses incurred in complying with that subsection. The Texas Education Agency may make grants of appropriated money for the purpose of paying school districts under this subsection."
In further stating the grant program "is not mandatory," the TEA email continues: "Grant funds are available for such purchases, and if any district or charter school is a successful recipient of those funds, then buses purchased under the grant program are required to have three-point seat belts…A district or charter school that chooses not to apply for the grant funds is not required to have three-point seat belts on new bus purchases."
The TEA has said grant funds would be distributed beginning in December for the 2010-2011 school year. Applications will be accepted until 5:00 p.m., Nov. 19.
In a letter to the governor, Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville , who wrote the law creating the program, said, "I find it sadly ironic that TEA decided to re-write Texas State Law at the start of School Bus Safety Week."
Faced with the governor's request of all state agencies to cut their budgets by 5%, the TEA slashed the allocated $10 million to $.3.6 million, because the Legislative Budget Board had not yet authorized the money. After this authorization came through in late August, the TEA indicated it would fully fund the program if demand exceeded $3.6 million.
Lucio's letter said, "TEA is purposefully hindering demand for the program in an attempt to justify its reduction of the program's financing."
On Monday, the TEA had not yet responded to KXAN's call or email.
The law stems from the March 29, 2006, bus accident carrying the girls' soccer team from Beaumont's West Brook High School. Sliding off a rainy highway and rolling over, Ashley Brown and Alicia Bonura died and several others were severely injured.
Parents of the crash victims and survivors themselves worked with state lawmakers to pass "Ashley and Alicia's Bill" into law.
In an email, Steve Forman, the father of one of the survivors, said, "We thought we had seen the end of TEA trying to kill the program.
"Oh no. Now they are telling school districts that they don't have to comply!! Essentially, they couldn't kill the program by eliminating the funding, so now they are telling schools to simply disobey the law. Unbelievable! The parents are calling on Gov. Perry to correct this nonsense."
Late Saturday night into early Sunday morning, a light band of freezing drizzle traversed the I-35 corridor eastward. With sub-freezing temperatures, even the light precipitation created major problems.
A 10-year-old was killed while standing outside a vehicle after the child's family was involved in a fender bender, DPS said.
APD is responding to a 25 vehicle accident near the 5400 block of Ed Bluestein near Thurgood Ave.
A man is dead after being hit by several vehicles in the eastbound lane of Highway 71 Saturday night.
A representative at the Fayette County Sheriff's office said that Fayette County is effectively shut down due to icy conditions.
Freezing drizzle causing dangerous conditions on roadways overnight.