Back to school has been stressful enough this year. Now, there's another bump in the road thanks to a national shortage of school bus drivers. It's fallen on parents to get kids to school, but local governments are starting to step in to help.

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After more than a year of navigating remote and hybrid learning, many parents were excited to give their kids a sense of normalcy with a return to five full days of in-person school.

But there's a major bump in the road: A massive school bus driver shortage across the country. More than half of school districts around the U.S. described their driver shortage as "severe" or "desperate" in a nationwide survey conducted by the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT), the National Associate of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS), and the National School Transportation Association (NSTA).

An image of school busses in Boston.
Credit: Getty Images.

How bad is it, and how is the shortage affecting students and their families? The survey also found:

  • It's happening everywhere. Every region in the country is currently altering its transportation because of the pandemic. The West led the way, with 80% of respondents reporting alterations to service. The Northeast (79%), Midwest (77%), ad South (66%) have also made changes.
  • The youngest kids are experiencing the most disruptions. Ninety-one percent of respondents said they've made adjustments to elementary schools' transportation services, followed closely by middle school (90%) and high school (83%).
  • The shortage of bus drivers is driving could be driving these changes. More than two-thirds of respondents indicated that the bus driver shortage was their top concern or problem.

Potential Reasons for the Shortage

The driver shortage didn't just happen overnight. A report for CBS News indicated that many drivers retired during the pandemic or are concerned about interacting with children who may have COVID-19. The hiring process and wages for bus drivers may also present a problem. Respondents to the NAPT, NASDPTS, and NSTA survey reported that it took an average of 16 days to hire a driver. The West averages a 22-day hiring process. More than 50 percent of respondents said that pay was a major factor in their district's ability to recruit and keep drivers.

Lynette Washington, the chief operations officer for Baltimore City Public Schools told CBS that bus drivers are calling out sick frequently.

"When have to call a family at seven o'clock…to say that the bus isn't coming, and they all quickly have to find another option to get their child to school and child care, that's a huge problem," Washington says.

How Kids Are Getting to School Instead

Going back to school this year, while exciting for some, has still been fraught with stressors—from fights over mask mandates to a concern for children's mental health as the pandemic continues to rage. Now, families and local governments, already dealing with a pandemic, have had to take drastic measures to get kids to school.

To get kids to school in Baltimore, some parents are using services like Lyft, but that costs money. One mother told CBS News she's spending about $80 per day three to four times per week.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker deployed the National Guard to help. This week, up to 250 National Guard members were available to drive students to and from school.

"The safe and reliable transportation to school each day is critical to our children's safety and education," Baker tweeted Monday.