Bus driver shortage has states looking to National Guard to transport kids to school

September 22, 2021, 8:00 PM UTC

In the weeks since students returned to classrooms around the country, many districts have grappled with staffing shortages. Most significantly, perhaps, a dearth of school bus drivers. 

And it’s reaching a breaking point. So much so, that Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said he was consulting with the National Guard for possible help after several school districts in the state have had to temporarily close owing to a lack of bus drivers. Earlier this month, Wilmington City Schools, for example, closed for a day after too many drivers were out to provide transportation for the 1,500 students who ride daily.  

“We’re looking at manpower situations, so we’re looking at who else in our communities in the state has the legal ability to drive a bus and has the skill sets needed to drive a bus,” DeWine said during a press conference Tuesday. DeWine added that his team is looking for a viable solution, adding he should have an update in the next few days. 

Ohio is far from the only state dealing with this shortage. Last week, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker activated up to 250 members of the National Guard to drive school buses throughout the state as needed.

A national survey released at the end of August found 51% of school coordinators say their driver shortage is “severe” or “desperate.” A vast majority reported they’re operating on altered service schedules, which typically means that children are on a bus for much longer periods—sometimes hours. 

The shortage is driven by a number of factors, including that many drivers were furloughed or laid off during the pandemic when a majority of students participated in class via remote learning. Many drivers went on to find jobs in other fields or retire—and luring them back is difficult, especially because pay is quite low. The typical bus driver makes $16 an hour, or about $34,116 a year, according to ZipRecruiter. 

“Most superintendents have my email, and I’m getting emails from them talking about the school bus driver shortage,” DeWine said. “I’m hearing from parents about what that means that a child that normally would be dropped off at five o’clock or at four o’clock is now on the bus until 5:15 or 5:20. So these are real stories, these are real people, this is clearly a real, real problem out there.”

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