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By Carlos Gamino

The state of Massachusetts has activated its National Guard to… drive school buses. The state has made as many as 250 Guard members available to address staffing shortages in some school districts, according to the office of Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker. In fact, 90 Guard members are already training for service across four cities.

So why is this happening? Like much else this year, we can chalk it up to the COVID-19 pandemic. There’s a national shortage of bus drivers due to battles over masks and vaccines.

In a recent national survey, as many as half of student-transportation coordinators described their area’s bus driver shortages as “severe” or “desperate.” Those shortages are occurring everywhere from New York to Oregon – and one district in Montana is offering hefty bonuses for new bus drivers.

Could this happen in Wisconsin? Absolutely. Though our state hasn’t yet activated its National Guard troops to drive kids to school, the shortages are here. Many drivers were furloughed during the beginning of the pandemic, when schools shut down; some took the opportunity to retire, and others chose not to come back to work in a public setting. Still others are willing to quit if vaccine mandates are put in place.

Hiring new bus drivers isn’t easy, either. A person must have a commercial driver’s license, or CDL, in order to drive a school bus. To make matters more complicated, many motor vehicle departments have been closed or operating under limited hours for the past year-and-a-half; that means people who wanted new CDLs or to renew existing CDLs had a hard time doing so. Road tests and updated qualifications have been tough to come by over the past 18 months.

Some cities, such as Chicago, are talking about using ride-share companies to fill the gaps; others are talking about offering parents financial incentives to drive their kids to school. Private bus contractors and school districts are trying to recruit as much as they can, but there’s reason to believe that Wisconsin will have to take drastic measures to get kids to school in the near future.

What Do You Think?

Would you become a bus driver for a Wisconsin school district as the pandemic rages on, or do you know bus drivers who don’t want to work during this time? Share your story on my Facebook page or Twitter feed!

By Attorney Carlos Gamino