UPDATE: A grant, included in Governor Bill Haslam's budget, could give school systems money for seat belts on school buses.

School systems strapped for cash may be getting some relief with the grant.

While her bill to require seat belts on new school buses never became law, State Representative JoAnne Favors calls this a start.

Since the deadly Woodmore bus crash, Favors has been working to put seat belts on school buses in Tennessee.

The bill made it to the House Finance, Ways, and Means Subcommittee, but stopped there.

"It was very, very disappointing and frustrating to me to think that the lives of our children didn't seem to matter to some people," State Rep. JoAnne Favors (D-Chattanooga) said.

Favors said there were enough votes in subcommittee, but not in the full committee so a formal vote to move it forward was never taken.

Instead, her idea inspired a $3 million grant that will ease the cost of buying school buses with seat belts.

"It's better than just leaving it and not having anything to look forward to," Favors said.

The governor's office said school districts will have to apply for the money and it will be distributed fairly.

Favors hopes it gives the Woodmore families a sense of closure.

Favors has chosen not to run for re-election. She's looking to other state lawmakers to bring the bill back in the future.

"I'm hoping that even though this is my last term there, I'm hoping that some of those 26 or 27 legislators who signed on as co-prime sponsors that they will continue to fight for this," Favors said.

This all goes into effect in July.

Channel 3 contacted all of the school systems in the Tennessee Valley to see if they are considering applying for the grant.

Hamilton County wants to wait for more details. Polk County has no plans to apply for it at this time. McMinn County is considering applying.

There are 147 school districts in the state of Tennessee.

If all of them apply for the $3 million grant, it would leave each district with $20,000 a piece if the grant was divided equally. That's enough for seat belts on two school buses.

It costs about $10,000 to put seat belts on buses. 

Schools will have to apply for the grant through the Tennessee Department of Education.


UPDATE: Seat belts on school buses are one step closer to becoming a reality across the state of Tennessee.

Ken Jobe, Democratic Caucus Chairman, says the proposal has been placed behind Governor Haslam's proposed budget.

Since Governor Haslam has already allocated $3-million in his budget, Jobe says this is more or a less a formality.

Haslam's budget for the FY 2018-2019 is waiting for approval from elected officials.

Hearings for budget approval are set to begin next week.

Stay with WRCBtv.com for updates to this story.   


PREVIOUS STORY: School systems in the Tennessee Valley are responding to the governor's proposal to provide money for buses equipped with seat belts.

The proposed budget includes $3 million for that purpose.

READ MORE | Tennessee seat belts on school buses bill now a fraction of the cost

School systems strapped for cash and wanting to put seat belts on their school buses may soon get some relief.

Dr. Mark Griffith with Marion County Schools says he's happy to hear about the plan, but he would like to learn more details first.

"We would have to look at how to flow those dollars out to those independent contractors," Dr. Griffith said.

Marion County has 27 school buses that are independently contracted and more than 4,000 students. That means the school system works with owner-operators to provide transportation.    

While it's not state mandated to have seat belts on school buses, the governor says he wants local school districts to have that option.

"We're leaving that up to the leas to decide and a lot of them are saying as we buy new buses, we would like to do that and this gives them some grant money to draw from," Governor Bill Haslam said.

The bill to put seat belts on new school buses after July of 2019 is up for a vote next week in the state legislature.

State Rep. JoAnne Favors from Chattanooga plans to re-introduce her bill to members of the House Finance, Ways, and Means Subcommittee.

In Marion County, Dr. Griffith said if and when the bill becomes law, his board members and drivers will address the issue.

"The debate is still out if indeed that's what's needed out there. I've had several folks that I've come in contact with that oppose that and I've had several that support it," Dr. Griffith said.

The governor's office said school systems will have to apply for the grant money and it "will be allocated in a fair and equitable manner."

A vote on the governor's proposed budget is expected to happen around mid-April.


PREVIOUS STORY: Governor Bill Haslam's proposed budget for the 2018-2019 fiscal year includes funding for school safety.

The proposed budget released Tuesday includes $30 million to improve school safety across the state. 

The General Assembly will consider Haslam's proposed budget in the coming weeks.

$25 million of the funds is for non-recurring school safety grants, and $5.2 million is for recurring ones.

A School Safety Working Group was appointed by the governor to look into ways schools can be made safer. 

“Our children deserve to learn in a safe and secure environment and I’ve asked the working group to make specific recommendations on school safety measures,” Haslam said. “These additional school safety funds, which include doubling the current amount of recurring funding we have through our school safety grants, will provide our schools with additional resources to meet their specific needs.”  
 
$3 million of the proposed budget would be used for non-recurring funds for grants that school districts would use to address the additional costs associated with purchasing seat belts for buses.

Additional investments included in the budget amendment include:

  •  $5 million in nonrecurring broadband accessibility grants, in addition to the $10 million initially included in the FY 18-19 budget. The governor’s Broadband Accessibility Act became law in 2017 and committed $30 million in grants over three years.
  • $9 million in nonrecurring funds to purchase equipment at the 27 Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology to improve and modernize a broad variety of workforce development programs.
  • An additional $1 million in recurring funds to provide mental health treatment and recovery services as part of TN Together – the governor’s comprehensive plan to end the opioid crisis in Tennessee.
  • $2 million in nonrecurring funds for an addiction services research program at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in support of TN Together
  • $10 million in nonrecurring funds for the Aeronautics Development Fund to create jobs and investment opportunities in Tennessee’s aviation industry.

$74 million in nonrecurring funds is included in the budget amendment, as well as $9.8 million in recurring funds. 

The budget amendment will be presented to the House and Senate Finance committees Tuesday.

Traditionally, the budget amendment is introduced for consideration and approval by the general assembly during the final weeks of the legislative session