A Nationwide School Bus Driver Shortage Is Prompting Some Districts to Offer Up to a $4,000 Sign-On Bonus

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COVID-19 and the new highly contagious Delta variant are significant factors for the shortage. Some districts lost drivers to mask requirements on buses, a report said.

A shortage of bus drivers nationwide is prompting districts to offer cash incentives that include sign-on bonuses. Some schools are even paying parents to drive their own children to school or figure out other forms of transportation as schools begin to re-open, according to a published report. 

One Montana school district is offering a $4,000 sign-on bonus for new hires. A district in Delaware has offered to pay parents $700 to take care of their own transportation. And, one in Pittsburgh has delayed the start of classes and said hundreds of more children would have to walk, amid the shortage crisis, the Associated Press reported

New drivers at some Atlanta Public Schools are being offered $1,000, and a $3,000 signing bonus for some of the Baltimore City Public Schools, CNN reported.

Additional incentives being carried out by some companies that contract bus service with school districts to get new hires are increasing the hourly wage. Some are providing training to get a commercial driver’s license, and others are letting the driver bring their child who is under 1 year of age to work with them, the AP reported.

Dave Meeuwsen, executive director of the Michigan Association of Pupil Transportation, said one school in Michigan was able to find enough drivers by guaranteeing that new hires can qualify for health insurance if they work enough hours in the district, whether it includes janitorial services or in food service, AP reported.

COVID-19 and the new highly contagious Delta variant are significant factors for the shortage. Some districts lost drivers to mask requirements on buses, a report said.

The Delta variant also drove the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to recommended universal mask-wearing in schools, particularly for children that are too young to be vaccinated. In some areas, there’s a wave of anti-maskers protesting, AP reported.  

Some of the hardest-hit states affected by the shortage are Florida, Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, leaving parents in a quandary, CBS News reported.

In Florida’s Lee County Schools, 20 bus drivers left because they were worried students would not be wearing masks, Fox affiliate WFTX reported.

One parent told CBS News that she works two jobs and she “can’t get them [her kids] to and from school every day.” 

A number of state school bus associations in California, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin have launched statewide recruiting campaigns to bring in drivers, CNN reported. 

Joanna McFarland, co-founder and CEO of school ride-service company HopSkipDrive, which tracks school bus issues said about half the workforce was over 65 and more vulnerable to the virus. In March, her company conducted a survey that found nearly 80% of districts that responded were having trouble finding enough bus drivers, the AP reported.

“It’s really at a breaking point,” McFarland said.

On Wednesday, President Biden ordered his education secretary to investigate possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other health measures in order to protect students against COVID-19, AP reported. 

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