Many school districts are also complaining that they are losing drivers to more lucrative jobs in trucking. Pay for a school bus driver currently ranges from $8 to $18 per hour, depending on the state and the size of the city being served.
One consultant pegs the national shortfall at 20% and recent surveys in a school bus magazine indicated that more than 70% of the nation's school districts are struggling to fill drivers' seats.
Around 24 million children currently ride in 418,000 school buses.
The shortage is attributed largely to low unemployment levels and experts fear that the pool of potential drivers has disappeared as fewer people pursue part time work, particularly the kind that involves disciplining and responsibility for children. Tougher entry requirements are also holding people back. Drug and alcohol testing are mandatory for potential bus drivers and many states also require criminal background checks and physical exams.
Some school districts are spending more on training to get potential drivers on board, but many are finding that isn't always a successful strategy. A bus transportation company in Suffolk County, NY has already spent $100,000 this year to train new drivers. Of the 92 hired, only two are still on the job.
Others are offering perks such as 401K plans and health benefits for what is essentially a part-time job. Many districts are trying to provide longer hours by combining driving with custodial or cafeteria or by guaranteeing pay even if there is no midday driving.