School Bus Driver Shortage Could Lead to Less Knowledgeable Drivers

In an effort to remedy the shortage of school bus drivers, the Department of Transportation and Department of Education will temporarily waive certain requirements for driving candidates.

The federal waiver will allow states to avoid requiring applicants to have greater knowledge on the maintenance of a bus' engine components.

"To help states and municipalities that are experiencing a shortage of school bus drivers recruit new hires, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, in coordination with the Department of Education, today announced it would give states the option of waiving the portion of the commercial driver's license skills test that requires bus driver applicants to identify the 'under the hood' engine components," the Department of Transportation announced on Tuesday. "All other components of the written and road test must be met."

The department said the decision was made with the help of school transportation associations and officials who said the requirement was an "unnecessary hurdle" for those interested in applying for a position.

It will be up to each state as to whether or not they will waive the current requirement for school bus driver candidates.

"This federal waiver will help communities that are short on school bus drivers," Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigeg said in a statement. "By allowing states to focus on the testing requirements that are critical to safety, we will get additional, qualified drivers behind the wheel to get kids to school safety."

School districts in Iowa, Ohio and Connecticut have been forced to cancel classes this week due to the shortage of bus drivers.

In North Carolina, some parents were asked to drive their kids to school on Tuesday while the district struggles to fill driver vacancies.

"If you can bring your child to school, please do so," Guilford County Schools Superintendent Sharon Contreras said to families. "As is the case across the country, GCS is experiencing a bus driver shortage in addition to pandemic-related absences. We need your assistance in alleviating stress on the system."

Districts in Florida, Massachusetts, Utah and Indiana have all warned students and families to prepare for delays this week due to the shortages.

School Bus Driver Staff Shortage Students Federal
A national school bus driver shortage is pushing federal agencies to take steps to help states remedy delays and school closures. A federal waiver will allow states to avoid requiring applicants to have greater knowledge on the maintenance of a bus' engine components. Above, a school bus transports students on August 17, 2020, in New York City. Noam Galai/Getty

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said the waiver helps prioritize keeping kids in schools during the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuring they will still be able to access in-person learning.

"We've heard from educators and parents that labor shortages, particularly of bus drivers, are a roadblock to keeping kids in schools," Cardona said on Tuesday. "Today's announcement will give states the flexibility they need to help increase the pool of rivers, who are a key part of the school community, and get kids to school safely each day where students learn best."

Earlier in the day, President Joe Biden doubled down on his administration's commitment to keeping schools open as the Omicron variant rapidly spreads across the country.

Biden called on states that haven't used the $130 billion set aside for schools in the American Rescue Plan to do so now.

Despite federal efforts to help districts avoid returning to remote learning, more than 2,700 schools across the country remained closed at the beginning of this week in response to rising concern of the highly transmissible variant.

According to White House press secretary Jen Psaki, 97 percent of the nation's schools are open as of Tuesday.