U.S. Department of Education Announces Joint Temporary Action with U.S. Department of Transportation to Help Address School Bus Driver Labor Shortage
Today, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced, in coordination with the U.S. Department of Education (Department), that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is giving states the option of waiving the portion of the commercial driver’s license (CDL) skills test that requires applicants to identify the “under the hood” engine components. All other components of the written and road test will remain.
This announcement aims to alleviate some of the labor shortage challenges schools are facing and is one of many resources the Department continues to provide to safely keep schools open for full-time, in-person learning.
“This Administration is listening to the needs of school communities and remains committed to making sure schools are open safely for in-person learning full time,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “We’ve heard from educators and parents that labor shortages, particularly of bus drivers, are a roadblock to keeping kids in schools. Today’s announcement will give states the flexibility they need to help increase the pool of drivers, who are a key part of the school community, and get kids to school safely each day where students learn best. And American Rescue Plan funds can be used to hire these critical staff, including offering increased compensation or other incentives to recruit and retain staff.”
“This federal waiver will help states that are short on bus drivers,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “By allowing states to focus on the testing requirements that are critical to safety, we will get additional, qualified drivers behind the wheel to get kids to school safely.”
Drivers receiving a CDL under this temporary waiver are permitted to operate intrastate school buses only; they are not authorized to operate trucks, motorcoaches, or any other type of commercial motor vehicle requiring a CDL.
The FMCSA waiver, which became effective Jan. 3, 2022, expires March 31, 2022.
As of December, with the help of American Rescue Plan funds and other efforts, nearly all schools were open for full-time, in-person instruction. The Department recently issued a new resource to state and local leaders stressing the importance of full-time, safe, in-person learning and how federal funds can be used to achieve that goal including to effectively recruit and retain staff.
Last month, Secretary Cardona outlined actions the Biden Administration was taking to address labor shortages in schools. The Secretary sent a letter to state and local leaders demonstrating how schools and states are using American Rescue Plan funds to address labor shortages across the country. In November, the Department issued an FAQ on how schools can use American Rescue Plan funds to address transportation issues that might disrupt in-person learning. The Department also hosted webinars to assist districts in using federal dollars to recruit, retain, and hire additional staff. Additionally, the Internal Revenue Service has issued FAQs clarifying that, in some instances, retirees can return to work and still receive their pensions
Today’s waiver and the resources provided by the Department underscore the Administration’s commitment to safe, in-person learning. In addition to these resources and the more than $130 billion for K-12 education in the American Rescue Plan, the Biden-Harris Administration has:
- Prioritized the vaccination of educators, school staff and child care workers leading to more than 90% of school staff vaccinated nationwide.
- Hosted a National Safe School Reopening Summit.
- Partnered with the CDC and the Rockefeller Foundation to provide resources to help ensure that all schools can access and set up screening testing programs as quickly as possible.
- Provided $10 billion in funding for COVID-19 testing for PreK-12 educators, staff, and students.
- Developed a Safer Schools and Campuses Best Practices Clearinghouse elevating hundreds of best practices to support schools’ efforts to reopen safely and address the impacts of COVID-19 on students, educators, and communities.
- Held the Return To School Road Trip, a bus tour that visited schools across five states in five days see the impact of federal resources on-the-ground and highlight school communities returning to school safely.
- Announced new mental health resources to provide information and resources to enhance the promotion of mental health and the social and emotional well-being among children and students.
- Provided a FAQ outlining allowable use of funds for ESSER and GEER funding for coronavirus testing among other uses.
- Released three volumes of the COVID-19 Handbook to identify evidence-based strategies to meet the social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs of students and support the educator workforce.
- Launched a series of Equity Summits focused on addressing inequities that existed before, but were made worse by the pandemic.
- Released a report on the disparate impacts of COVID-19 on underserved communities.