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Friday night red lights: How bus driver shortages disrupt high school football

Schools across the country are struggling to hire bus drivers to move students around

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Eagle Stadium at Allen High School in Allen, Texas, cost around $60 million.

Eagle Stadium at Allen High School in Allen, Texas, cost around $60 million to build.

LM Otero, Associated Press

Something was missing when the Nacogdoches High School football team took on Mt. Pleasant in mid-October in Texas. The Dragons had their players, coaches and fans, but there was no music coming from the stands.

“The atmosphere is really not the same without the band and drill team there, playing and making noise for the team,” said Adrian Belista, a junior at Nacogdoches High and drum major for the band, to The Texas Tribune.

Belista and her bandmates had been left behind in Nacogdoches due to a problem that’s plaguing schools across the country: There aren’t enough bus drivers to get school kids where they need to go.

“Part of the problem is that it’s not just us looking for help,” said Les Linebarger, spokesperson for the Nacogdoches school district, to The Texas Tribune, noting that schools, factories, shipping companies and other organizations are all trying to hire drivers right now.

The article highlighted research from the American Public Transportation Association showing that 71% of transit agencies have “had to cut or delay service because of worker shortfalls.”

Other research from the start of the school year estimated that around 88% of schools have faced bus driver shortages this fall.

“The top reasons for the shortage are recruiting issues, pay and retirements,” Axios reported on the HopSkipDrive study.

Without enough bus drivers, schools are forced to make cuts to extracurricular programming, such as when Nacogdoches left band members at home during an away football game, or combine bus routes.

In the hardest hit districts, kids may end up missing school because of a lack of transportation, Axios reported.

Schools and other bus-dependent organizations are working to solve the shortage by raising salaries and offering on-the-job training. Some states have also passed laws allowing schools to hire drivers to drive smaller passenger vans.

“A new law in Arizona will allow districts to use smaller vehicles that carry between 11 and 15 people to transport students, meaning drivers won’t need to hold a commercial driver’s license,” Axios reported.