Amid a statewide shortage of school bus drivers, Pennsylvania officials are reaching out to thousands of commercial driver's license holders to fill empty positions.
The number of certified school bus drivers in the state has shrunk by 4% since 2017, leaving some students without reliable access to transportation, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. To address this shortage, Pennsylvania is mailing information on becoming a school bus driver to 375,000 commercial driver's license holders. The shortage of bus drivers has been attributed to concern about health risks posed by COVID-19, according to Pennsylvania School Bus Association Executive Director Ryan Dellinger.
To be eligible to become a school bus driver, individuals must be over the age of 18, complete 20 hours of training, and pass a road test, according to state guidelines. Individuals must also pass a criminal and child abuse background check. For individuals without a commercial driver's license, Pennsylvania will offer new skills tests every Monday from Oct. 18 to Nov. 8.
As a result of the bus driver shortage, some Philadelphia students have been stranded at the wrong bus stop or missed class altogether. In one instance, a seventh grade West Philadelphia student was stranded in Northeast Philadelphia for four hours, the Inquirer reported. A West Philadelphia elementary school student has not been on a bus since the beginning of the school year, and has relied on public transportation and rideshare apps.
District education officials have turned to outside agencies for help solving the staffing gap. Philadelphia School District Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. recently requested aid from the Pennsylvania National Guard and Amazon, and the district is paying roughly 10,000 families $300 per month to drive their children to school. District officials have also discussed giving SEPTA fare cards to families who lack access to cars.
As the city looks to hire more drivers, some education officials remain cautiously optimistic. Pennsylvania Education Secretary Noe Ortega acknowledged that the shortage of bus drivers is frustrating to students and parents, but said he believes the state can address the issue.
“The need for bus drivers isn’t something we can fix overnight,” Ortega said during a Sept. 30 news conference. "But by working together, we have tackled other complicated problems during the pandemic, and I believe we can make progress on this as well."