Wolf administration ramps up efforts to recruit school bus drivers

A school buses is pictured outside a school

School buses are pictured during a press conference, which encouraged interested individuals to obtain Commercial Driver’s License to address bus driver shortage in Pennsylvania, on Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021. (Commonwealth Media Services)

This story originally appeared on WITF

As school districts struggle to get kids to and from class, the Wolf administration is stepping up efforts to address a bus driver shortage.

The state is at its lowest number of bus drivers in five years — with about 42,000.

PennDOT reached out to more than 375,000 commercial driver’s license holders across the state to let them know about the opening. So far, about 1,300 are expressing interest.

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Department of Education Secretary Dr. Noe Ortega said it’s a step in the right direction.

“But Pennsylvania still needs more help. Our students need reliable transportation to be able to continue in-person instruction. Our parents need peace of mind, and our schools need assistance,” he said.

PennDOT is holding additional CDL skills testing at 23 locations for the next three Mondays.

People who want to schedule an appointment can visit PennDOT’s Driver and Vehicle Services website, or they can call (717) 412-5300.

“We want to do our part to encourage those looking for employment or supplemental income to consider obtaining a school bus endorsement to help get our children to school. That’s the critical part of all of this,” said PennDOT Deputy Secretary  Kurt Myers. “We believe these efforts will help to ensure the safe and effective transportation of our commonwealth students.”

The state estimates at least 2,000 drivers are needed to relieve the problem.

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It takes about 12 weeks for a driver to become certified to operate a school bus.

“The school bus drivers are a critical part of the education system and can set the tone for a child’s entire day at school,” said Ryan Dellinger, director of the Pennsylvania School Bus Association. “In some situations, these bus drivers may be the first friendly adult that the child sees that day.”

The shortage has had ramifications across the state. Pittsburgh Public Schools had to delay the start of the school year when the district could not find transportation for nearly 11,000 students.

After many students were late getting to class or coming home from school, Philadelphia schools Superintendent William Hite asked for help from the Pennsylvania National Guard.

Nationwide, nearly 80% of districts report having trouble finding drivers, according to HopSkipDrive, which tracks school bus issues.

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