TULSA, Okla. — Sweeping changes to bus driver regulations are on the discussion lists in this upcoming legislative session.
Many school districts across Oklahoma are doing more with less when it comes to the bus driver crisis.
Bixby Public School parents received a text message last week coming from administrators saying there would be a district-wide closure due to a bus driver shortage. They're not the only district struggling.
The news of the closure in Bixby reached the desk of Secretary of Education Ryan Walters.
”Again, this is nationwide, it’s an issue with how we transport kids to school,” says Walters.
Walters also is the director of the non-profit Every Kid Counts Oklahoma so he knows schools, their obstacles, and possible solutions.
”Because again we think about the typical yellow school bus and of course we need those," Walters states. "But there are other ways to transport kids to school as well.”
Those other ways Walters mentions could include relaxing some of the driving qualifications for drivers, using other forms of transportation on bus routes, and even sharing buses with neighboring school districts.
”We’re at situation critical. Bus drivers today are shorter than they have ever been in the history of school transportation,” says Brad Smythe, Director of Operations for Muskogee Public Schools.
For Muskogee Public Schools, their routes nearly cut in half in the past four to five years. All because of a lack of drivers.
Smythe says their temporary fix is to get coaches and teachers with commercial drivers licenses behind the wheel.
"We are looking at our own people. We’re talking about moving some people from child nutrition. People who are custodians that maybe 4-hour custodians or child nutrition people that are going to work 8-hours," says Smythe. "We’re going to send them to school. We’re going to train them to drive a bus just like this,”
It's a critical situation that the state's Secretary of Education is urging lawmakers to act on the next legislative session.
”As a parent of a young daughter in public school—I’m telling you if she can’t go to school one day it is, ’Dad we don’t have school tomorrow?’" Walters says. "We have young people that are depending upon their teachers, they’re depending upon the school to catch up on the learning loss that’s been experienced over the last year,”
Just in Muskogee Public Schools alone, the district is offering a $500 signing bonus to get a commercial driver's license.
For now, school districts will have to wait until next year to see the bills that will get filed, but this situation goes bigger. There's a lobbying effort underway at the federal level as well.
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