- Florida is entering the academic school year with a critical shortage of school bus drivers
- Orange County School District is in need of “hundreds”
- Despite an offer of lucrative sign-on bonuses, districts are unable to attract applicants
- House Democrats in November brought attention to the issue in anticipation but were unable to pass meaningful legislation to address the shortage
Schools in Florida face further complications heading into the new academic year, as a bevy of school districts are tasked with mitigating a major school bus driver shortage just weeks before the first day of school.
While the shortage is not a new development, the lack of available drivers is reaching a critical point, as Florida schools have not escaped the burden many industries felt amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, facing staff shortages in critical sectors such as bus drivers, food service workers, and classroom aides.
With the state teacher shortage — of which there are approximately 9,000 vacancies entering the year — garnering most of the national attention, it has fallen mostly on deaf ears that counties like Orange County are short hundreds of drivers compared to the year previous, according to a report by Spectrum News.
“We’ve been dealing with shortages for a while and they continue to get worse,” Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar said in November. “Part of it has to do with the lack of funding in our schools.”
a group of Florida House Democrats, including Rep. Felicia Simone Robinson of Miami, rose attention to the issue in November, calling for increased spending on schools and educational services in Florida public schools in anticipation of the current state of affairs.
“We need to have a fully staffed transportation system within our schools and districts,” said Robinson. “The shortages are related directly to low salaries for public sector workers in education fields. Respect for the value of experienced workers is eroded by policies like the current salary increase that puts the majority of funding towards the raising of base salaries without providing adequate funding to increase the salaries of experienced teachers.”
The requested additional funds, however, would come at the expense of higher taxes, which would be ostensibly difficult to pass through a Republican-led Florida government.
“A strong education budget would invest in what it takes to help our students learn in spite of the setbacks presented by the pandemic has presented,” continued Robinson. “As a state, our priorities must be in educating our children by investing in the people in our schools who bear the responsibility that teach, transport, and feed them.”
Though more money was allocated for teacher salaries in Gov. Ron DeSantis’ iteration of the state budget, House Democrats were unable to pass any meaningful legislation that resulted in more funding for bus drivers or transportation services.
In an attempt to alleviate the shortage, Orange County School District is offering a $1,500 sign-on bonus for new bus drivers, according to the same Spectrum News report, but has only garnered 28 applicants for the position. The weak response indicates that the district will enter the year shorthanded, leading to more crowded busses and longer routes that will burden schoolchildren with longer commute times.
The Governor wants to be the education governor. New civics academies won’t work without qualified teachers. Florida’s budget is below the median in per pupil spending and teacher salaries are not competitive. Budgets reveal the priorities of an organization and its leadership. Education is a low priority in Florida.