HomeDriversFeds Remind ESSER Funds Can Combat School Bus Driver Shortage

Feds Remind ESSER Funds Can Combat School Bus Driver Shortage

After Labor Day, the U.S. Department of Education launched its “Back to School Bus Tour 2023: Raise the Bar” trip across five states to highlight how states and school districts are accelerating student learning and encouraging post-pandemic recovery and mental health supports.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona didn’t ride in a yellow school bus during the weeklong event, but it prompted questions to his office regarding the role the federal government is playing in the nationwide school bus shortage, as readers indicate it is the leading cause of anxiety during school startup.

In a survey conducted last month, 47 percent of 100 School Transportation News readers answering said staff shortages are the most difficult challenge at school startup. According to an Education Week survey conducted last year, school bus drivers ranked second on the list of job openings that school principals and district leaders said have been hardest to fill, behind only substitute teachers.

“The Department of Education has encouraged local school districts to use American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP-ESSER) funds to eliminate educator shortages, including by increasing wages, which we know have been a particular cause of shortages of school bus drivers,” a spokesperson told STN. “In addition, we are pleased that the U.S. Department of Transportation has provided an exemption of the under-the-hood portion of the CDL skills test for school bus drivers through Nov. 27, 2024, and would encourage reaching out to their respective state drivers licensing agency for additional information.”

Recognizing that school district staff could earn more in the private sector, Cardona and Labor Secretary Martin Walsh also signed policy letters last summer that in part pledged to pay educators competitively. Cardona and Walsh urged states and school districts to use the $122 billion in ARP-ESSER funds “to ensure children have the teachers, paraprofessionals, and other staff they need to recover and thrive.”

Additionally, Cardona and Walsh noted that state governors, county commissioners, and city mayors could use $350 billion in State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds to help schools hire staff and pay them premium wages.

Meanwhile, school districts have until Sept. 24 to spend ESSER II and Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER) money for school bus driver salary increases, retention bonuses, or to cover the cost of hiring additional drivers because of pandemic-related staff shortages. Funds can also support or provide school transportation services, if the needs are related to COVID-19, which the Department of Education defines as supporting daily attendance at school to address the impact of lost instructional time. This includes transportation to after-school enrichment programs.

ESSER/GEER funds can also be used to reimburse parents or provide a stipend for “reasonable and necessary” transportation costs in lieu of their children riding bus routes that are canceled or negatively impacted by school bus driver shortages.

ARP-ESSER funds must be spent by September 2024.

Related: Feds Finalize Approval of All State Plans for ESSER Funds
Related: ESSER State Plans Approved, Districts Discuss Fund Usage
Related: Senator Seeks Guidance on ESSER Funds for Hiring, Retaining School Bus Drivers

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