Remote instruction during the height of the covid pandemic proved that students learn best when they’re physically inside a classroom.
But that can only work if districts can actually get kids to school.
The shortage of school bus drivers, an annual problem with many districts, has been exacerbated by the health crisis.
The critical shortage of drivers has prompted some districts like Gloversville and Johnstown to eliminate some bus runs, forcing parents to either drive their children to school or have them stay home and learn remotely.
State and local officials have not been idle in seeking solutions. But much more needs to be done to compel more people to drive buses so our students have the best opportunity at learning.
Some districts simply don’t pay enough or offer enough benefits to make the job worth someone’s time.
The requirement that drivers have CDL licenses limits the pool of drivers.
Many potential drivers don’t want to risk exposure to covid from packed buses of students. Many don’t want the extra duties that go beyond driving the bus, which include enforcing social distancing, mask requirements and sanitizing buses.
And the process for obtaining an CDL license to qualify for the job is long and cumbersome.
State and school officials need to be more flexible and creative in finding ways to overcome these challenging obstacles.
State officials have taken steps to slice some of the red tape needed to obtain a CDL license by reducing the time between passing tests and getting a license.
Limited covid hours at Department of Motor Vehicles offices have made the delays worse, so the state and counties need to expand both the DMV hours and the opportunities for taking driving tests.
The state is also encouraging retired drivers to come back and enticing holders of CDL licenses in other industries to consider driving a school bus a few hours a day.
To address the issue of low pay, districts should tap into their covid relief funds to boost the annual pay for drivers, offer signing and retention bonuses, and consider making drivers eligible for health benefits.
Other districts have been creative in getting kids to school, such as offering vouchers so students can use public transportation and recruiting drivers at public school events like high school football games.
Local governments can do their part by partnering with schools on recruitment, including reaching out to their own CDL drivers and making time so they can drive.
Finally, individuals who might be interesting in performing this vital public service should consider looking into becoming a bus driver. Just because you’re not qualified to teach doesn’t mean you can’t help children learn in other capacities.
One big way to help would be to get them to school.
For more information about bus-driving opportunities, contact your local school district, visit the district website or contact your local DMV office.