The Lead

Wolf administration responds to nationwide bus driver shortage, allows ‘limited’ reimbursements for families

By: - September 30, 2021 2:31 pm

Kurt Myers, deputy secretary for the Department of Transportation, said the state agency is contacting 375,000 drivers with a Commercial Driver’s License across the commonwealth in response to the nationwide school bus driver shortage. (Screenshot)

With a little more than 42,000 school bus drivers in Pennsylvania — the lowest in five years — the Wolf administration will expand licensing opportunities to help schools struggling amid a nationwide shortage.

Parents and guardians who’ve had to make transportation arrangements as a result of the shortage could also see a reimbursement, state officials announced on Thursday.

“I know it can be frustrating to our students and our parents, and school leaders are working incredibly hard to address these needs,” state Education Secretary Noe Ortega told reporters during a press conference. “The need for bus drivers isn’t something we can fix overnight, but by working together, we have tackled other complicated problems during the pandemic, and I believe we can make progress on this as well.”

Kurt Myers, deputy secretary for the Department of Transportation, said the state agency is contacting 375,000 drivers with a Commercial Driver’s License across the commonwealth about immediate employment opportunities and with information about how to get correct endorsements for a school bus license.

Since 2017, Pennsylvania has seen a 4 percent decrease in bus drivers, Myers said. Though the shortage is affecting each district differently, he added that PennDOT wants to hire “as many individuals as possible” to address staffing needs.

Schools worked to develop plans for in-person learning and adjust to a statewide mask mandate ahead of the 2021-22 school year. But in some cases, they also had to adjust operations because of the lack of drivers.

The Pittsburgh Public Schools considered delaying the first day of school as a result of the shortage. The district ended up distributing bus passes for public transit to students, and a local bus company offered a $5,000 bonus to recruit new drivers. 

Schools in Bucks County struggled to hire drivers, resulting in delayed and even canceled routes.

To address the need, officials announced that Pennsylvania school districts can use federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds for “limited” reimbursements to parents or guardians to transport children to and from in-person learning.

Beginning Oct. 18, PennDOT will temporarily expand its operations for four weeks to include Mondays for CDL skills testing at 23 locations throughout the state.

“PennDOT is committed to ensuring safe transportation for students,” Myers said. “We urge CDL licensees who are seeking work or supplemental employment to obtain a school bus endorsement — taking advantage of the additional hours for CDL testing — to help transport students safely.”

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Marley Parish
Marley Parish

A Pennsylvania native, Marley Parish covers the Senate for the Capital-Star. She previously reported on government, education and community issues for the Centre Daily Times and has a background in writing, editing and design. A graduate of Allegheny College, Marley served as editor of the campus newspaper, where she also covered everything from student government to college sports.