Officials warn of 'transportation crisis' as school year kicks off

Public school systems nationwide face bus driver shortages

Missouri mother Jenn Clark was waiting at the bus stop Monday morning with her eighth-grade son. It was his first day of school but the bus never came. After waiting 20 minutes and no bus in sight, Clark was forced to drive him to school. It's a privilege she knows not every parent has.

It's just one of many stories that are underscoring how the school bus driver shortage is burdening schools and parents across the country for another year.

"Nobody wrote to us. Nobody told us that the bus wasn't running," Clark, who lives in Kansas City, told FOX Business. "I called [the school] after I got them there, and I was like, 'Hey, I need to know what's happening with the buses. Do we even have an assigned bus driver?'"

Kansas City Public Schools told Clark that her son didn't have an assigned bus. They also couldn't tell her when that would change. The only way to find out is to call in every day, Clark said.


The district told Clark that it has been trying to put pressure on transportation companies to pay a higher wage in order to attract more drivers. In the meantime, though, Clark worries about how this issue is hindering students' education.

"There are these kids that are… arriving late if they even got picked up," she said. "It's not setting the kids up for success even remotely because if you come in missing your first class or even in the middle of first class you don't know what's happening." 

school bus

School buses are seen parked at Bloomsburg High School as many school districts in Pennsylvania experience a shortage of school bus drivers. (Paul Weaver/SOPA Images/LightRocket/File / Getty Images)

Maritza Guridy, deputy director of parent voice and outreach for the National Parents Union, agrees.

"[The shortage} not only causes stress for the families that depend on the school bus to get their child to school safely and in a timely manner," Guridy said. "It also causes a strain for the children’s school day as they are forced to begin their day late and get home late."

Kentucky's Jefferson County Public Schools said its buses are delayed in the morning and afternoon because of the ongoing problem.

The district told FOX Business that it transports 65,000 students every day. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the district had 900 drivers. Today, it has a little less than 600.

"With the same demand yet a drastic decrease in drivers, we are seeing delays both in morning and afternoon routes," a spokesperson for the district said.

The East Baton Rouge School System in Louisiana went as far as canceling school on Monday due to a lack of drivers, according to multiple reports.

Superintendent Sito Narcisse said during a press conference Sunday that he is focused on the "transportation crisis" and hopes to get kids back to school on Tuesday.

"Although this is not the way we wanted to start the school year, some of this was predictable, some of this was not, and we own that," he said.

Chicago Public Schools has a little more than half of the number of drivers it needs.

As of Aug. 16, the district had 681 yellow school bus drivers, slightly up from the 656 drivers it had a year earlier. However, the district needs 1,300 bus drivers to support transportation for an estimated 17,000 students who are eligible for transportation, according to the district.

"Chicago Public Schools (CPS) recognizes the burden the national driver shortage has on both students and families, not just in Chicago but across the nation," a spokesperson for the district told FOX Business.


Carol Baaki Diglio, the former assistant superintendent of human resources for the Novi Community School District and Oak Park School District in Michigan, told FOX Business that this issue is far from new. There has been a shortage of drivers for well over a decade.

Diglio, who spent decades working in education, recalled dealing with the same issue in 2008.

"Bus drivers were often hit first and the hardest during financial challenges," she said. 

School bus

A school bus is shown parked at a depot on April 19, 2023, in Pembroke Pines, Florida. (Joe Raedle/File / Getty Images)

Even today "it is very common to see giant banners hung on school districts and bus garages reading, ‘Bus drivers needed,’ and they often remain up all year long," said Diglio, who works as an educational leadership and human resources consultant.

She added that some districts have to charter buses for after-school sports and activities because they do not have enough drivers.

However, districts are still implementing temporary short-term adjustments while they focus on long-term solutions.


Jefferson County Public Schools said it is working on long-term fixes, which will include shortening routes. In the meantime, it is adding more school vans and drivers to take elementary students home or back to school when they don’t have an adult waiting at a stop. This will allow drivers to continue their routes without having to return to the original school, according to the district.

It is also using an extra bus or van at depots to take home students on late-arriving buses, so all other depot buses can continue their routes.

They also placed an additional staff member with a cellphone and GPS on buses with the longest, most challenging routes to help with directions and communicate with schools and bus compounds when a bus is running late.


The district also has an app for parents and guardians that will help them track where buses are. 

Chicago Public Schools said it's working with vendors, city partners and families in the community to identify solutions. 

The district has already held 17 hiring fairs for drivers over the past year, three of which were held in August alone. The district also upped the incentives to become a driver such as raising pay and adding sign-on and referral bonuses.