School districts and state governments are continuing the scramble to find qualified school bus drivers.
In January, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that $2.3 million in funding is available to support rapid credentialing programs. Much of this funding is dedicated to programs that provide education and training to qualify for a commercial driver’s license. Class A and B CDLs are in very high demand throughout Florida. This funding has the potential to produce licensed drivers to support supply chain needs, transport Florida students and to help reduce the bus driver shortage.
An estimated 1,200 students will benefit from this funding by May, and 2,000 students will benefit by August, explained Cassandra Palelis, spokesperson for the Florida Department of Education.
Many of the colleges and vocational schools set to receive this money are determining exactly how it will be allocated in their programs. The school administrators are working to encourage more students to receive training and begin driving buses to alleviate critical staff shortages.
“We know there are many changes taking place in driver education, and we are working to meet those changes. We are now discussing what we will do with this grant money,” said John Tinsler, an occupational specialist at North Florida Technical College.
The management of school district personnel in Florida is the responsibility of each county school district. Some choose to use driver training schools at community colleges that are subject to the same rules as the school districts.
“Most school districts conduct training programs in-house for school bus operator candidates that do not possess a commercial driver’s license at the time of initial employment,” added Palelis.
School bus driver candidates must obtain a Commercial Learner’s Permit from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Most school districts employ third-party CDL testers credentialed through Florida to conduct CDL road tests once the driver candidates are ready to perform the road tests.
Before transporting public school students, school bus operator candidates must complete 40 hours of preservice training, including certified cardiopulmonary resuscitation and first aid training. The training must consist of at least 20 hours of classroom instruction and eight hours of behind-the-wheel training. The classroom instruction and behind-the-wheel training are based on the Florida Department of Education’s Basic School Bus Operator Curriculum, which was revised in 2021.
“Most candidates receive more than the minimum required 40 hours of preservice training in preparation for the CDL road test,” said Palelis.
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Recently, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced that states have the option to waive the engine compartment component of the CDL pre-trip vehicle inspection testing requirement for applicants seeking the school bus and passenger endorsements and the intrastate only restriction. Drivers issued a CDL pursuant to this waiver would be restricted to the intrastate operation of school buses only.
“The FDOE supports efforts that will assist school districts in bringing more drivers on board to help with the transportation of students and is currently working with FLHSMV on the implementation of this waiver opportunity,” said Palelis.
As of Feb. 7, CDL applicants are subject to new entry-level driver training requirements adopted by the FMCSA. This includes the requirement to choose a training provider with a training provider registry number issued by the FMCSA. The department’s Basic School Bus Operator Curriculum has been revised to include additional training criteria for compliance with these new requirements.