PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A Pennsylvania House Education Committee hearing was held Monday to address the headaches caused by a school bus driver shortage.
“The lack of drivers has required students to have longer bus rides, earlier days in the morning, and later arrivals when coming home, and parents have been forced to find new ways to get their children to school,” said Aaron Sepkowski, legislative chair for the Pennsylvania School Bus Association.
Testifying before the State House Education Committee, Sepkowski offered a series of potential legislative options that could help ease the shortage, including what he calls “full implementation” of a school-bus-only commercial driver’s license.
Earlier this year, PennDOT announced a temporary waiver of CDL's “under the hood” training requirement to try to ease the shortage. But Sepkowski says it’s vague, as it’s not clear what happens to those drivers when the waiver is lifted.
“It's not very well utilized because of the confusion.”
The committee also discussed the Pupil Transportation Subsidy formula that determines how much money school districts get from the state to offset transportation costs.
Benjamin Handft with the Pennsylvania Department of Education was asked if he remembers the last time the formula was updated.
“I've been here for more than 20 years and I don't believe there was any substantive change to the Pupil Transportation Subsidy formula itself during that time,” he said.
Sepkowski says contractors and districts have increased the hourly pay rate and bonuses to try to address the shortage but it’s hard to be competitive when it takes about 12 weeks to get the required clearances and commercial driver’s license.
“You could go to McDonald's, Burger King, Wawa for $15 to $18 an hour and start tomorrow,” Sepkowski said. “We're asking these folks to submit for 12 weeks to receive a job.”
As of late August, there were 3,500 job openings for school bus drivers across the state.
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