Schools across the country are cutting bus service to account for a widespread shortage of bus drivers – and students are paying the price by missing school more often.
These are the main takeaways from a report published this month by HopSkipDrive, a private school transport provider. The report includes the results of a nationally representative survey of school and district leaders, transportation directors, counselors and other employees.
More than two-thirds of survey respondents said they saw a link between driver staffing issues and chronic absenteeism. Exactly half of respondents said they believe access to transportation and equity in education are linked in their district.
An anonymous respondent said that special education students have the lowest attendance of any population in the district. “With the shortage of school bus drivers, if a route doesn’t work, students have no way of getting to school,” the respondent said.
Students in the Reynoldsburg district of Ohio had to learn remotely one or two days a week this year because understaffing forced bus service cuts. In Anchorage, Alaska, families get bus service for three weeks at a time, then miss for six weeks as routes rotate to other areas. Elsewhere, according to the media, shortages are the cause of pupils missing classes or coming home late from school, sporting events being canceled or postponed.and districts invest in charter buses or expensive rental vehicles to fill in the gaps.
Nearly 9 in 10 HopSkipDrive survey respondents said driver shortages have limited their school or district’s operations this year. Three in 10 respondents said these constraints were severe.
Why are there not enough drivers? There are a few reasons:
- Chauffeur positions are often underpaid and undervalued compared to similar jobs in non-public institutions.
- Driving a bus full of young children without other adults on board can be taxing and even dangerous, deterring people from applying.
- Working conditions have led drivers to strike (more recently in places like Du Quoin, NC; Franklin County, Tenn.; Livingston Parish, La.; and Socorro, Texas.)
- Older drivers may be wary of being at work as COVID-19 continues to spread.
- Community outbreaks of COVID, influenza and RSV respiratory virus are causing further disruption this fall.
Many districts have asked teachers, cafeteria workers, principals and even superintendents to fill driver gaps, sometimes for bonuses. The Nash County District of North Carolina is even considering requiring employees in a wide variety of academic, administrative and clerical positions to obtain a bus driver’s license.
Read the full HopSkipDrive surveyand check out the Education Week Special Report on Staffing Challenges.