Monday, October 11, 2021

Rural school-bus driver shortage, worse in South, may cause issues for families without cars or good internet

Photo by Russ Dillingham, The Sun Journal, Lewiston, Maine
A bus-driver shortage is hurting rural school districts, and may especially hurt impoverished students," Aallyah Wright reports for Stateline. "Bus routes have been shortened or extended, drivers are working longer hours, and in some cases administrators, mechanics and even teachers are climbing behind the wheel. Some districts have offered hiring bonuses, increased drivers’ wages and paid families to bring kids to school."

The problem is widespread, according to an August survey by the National Association for Pupil Transportation, the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation and the National School Transportation Association. "About 78 percent of respondents, including school administrators, transportation directors, bus drivers, mechanics and other managers said the shortage is getting 'much worse' or 'a little worse,' while 51% described their shortage as 'severe' or 'desperate,'" Wright reports. "Sixty-four percent of respondents in rural Southern states such as Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and Oklahoma reported much more difficulty in retaining drivers, a higher percentage than respondents in the Northeast, Midwest and West."

A number of factors influenced the shortage: many older drivers retired early because they worried about catching the coronavirus. "Vaccine mandates have prompted some drivers to quit and dissuaded some would-be drivers from applying for the job," Wright reports. Some in the survey cited concerns with obtaining or updating a commercial driver's license, not getting enough work hours to make a living, and lack of benefits as issues that can impede hiring. One driver Wright interviewed said she knows drivers who have quit because of the lack of respect for the profession.

Rural education experts worry the shortage will exacerbate rural inequalities and leave many children—especially in high-poverty areas—even further behind academically, Wright reports. Families that don't have a car have a harder time getting their kids to school without school bus service, and many such families also may not have home internet access.

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