Mike Kennedy

Riding out the shortage

June 7, 2023

One of the school experiences I missed out on was riding a big yellow bus.

My grade school was within walking distance, a block away, so no vehicles were involved.

My high school did not offer bus service, so I rode the subway back and forth for four years.

It was only after I began writing about schools that I became aware that my experience was an outlier—more than 26 million students ride a bus to and from school each day, according to the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT).

But that number may be shrinking if schools continue to have trouble finding qualified drivers to cover all their routes. The driver shortage has been a problem in some areas for years, but has grown worse since the Covid-19 pandemic. When students weren’t coming to school, there was no need for buses, so many drivers were laid off.

Now that in-person instruction is back and classrooms are full, many of those drivers have not returned. Maybe they found better paying jobs, or ones that don’t require them to split shifts between early morning and late afternoons.

Without enough drivers, student learning may suffer. Fewer drivers mean longer wait times at a stop and students end up getting to school late and missing classes.

At least a couple of districts in the Kansas City area (where I am) have decided they will no longer offer paid school bus service to middle and high school students who live closer than 2.5 miles to school. Why? They can’t find enough drivers. Cutting the paid routes will give the districts a better chance to have drivers for the transportation that state law requires—students who live farther than 2.5 miles from school.

More money may be the answer for school systems that can afford it. In Pinellas County, Fla., the district tried to entice prospective drivers with a $1,000 hiring, but it did not solve the problem. So in May, the board approved pay raises of 10% to 20% for school bus drivers. The starting pay for the district’s bus drivers is increasing from $16.25 an hour to $19.79 an hour.

But the sad reality is that unless districts get more funding, they won’t be able to pay drivers and other employees the wages they deserve. 

About the Author

Mike Kennedy | Senior Editor

Mike Kennedy, senior editor, has written for AS&U on a wide range of educational issues since 1999.

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