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How school administrators and parents are finding solutions to school bus shortage

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The pandemic has been hard on students, schools and families over the past three academic years. First, COVID-19 forced the American education system into remote learning. Then, just as most school districts across the country began returning to the classroom, they ran up against another significant barrier - the national shortage of school bus drivers.

ALMI ABEYTA: We can get the schools ready. We can have everything together. But transportation is something where we will hear about it from families if transportation isn't working.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Almi Abeyta is the superintendent of the Chelsea School District in Massachusetts, where 1,500 of the district's 6,000 students rely on school bus transportation. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker loaned Abeyta's district 15 National Guard members to drive students to school until December.

ABEYTA: I have not heard any complaints, not that that means it's perfect. But in education, you can sometimes assume that no news is good news.

CORNISH: Abeyta feels like her district won't need the National Guard past December because they've been in solutions mode. And one problem they've identified - the tests to qualify to drive a bus in Chelsea were only available in English.

ABEYTA: And so now the test is in different languages, so they've been able to recruit, from what I hear, 50 to 60 drivers. Talking (ph) about equity, right?

ISMAEL EL-AMIN: A few years into parenting, we were juggling.

SHAPIRO: Ismael El-Amin has children in the Chicago public school system, which is also experiencing a shortage of bus drivers. It's a problem that El-Amin, a software developer, is uniquely positioned to help with. See, before the pandemic, he started a small carpool network.

EL-AMIN: I was literally driving on the highway in Chicago for 40 minutes next to another driver that goes to my daughter's school. We're looking at each other. The kids are waving at each other through the window. And in my mind, I'm like, you know what? We don't have to have both of these cars on the road.

CORNISH: Now El-Amin runs the PiggyBack network, a place where, for a fee, Chicago families can find carpools for their kids.

EL-AMIN: We've had, unfortunately, a lot of families are running into a situation where they had a bus route scheduled or they had some type of private transportation scheduled, and abruptly, they were canceled. They were dropped from that route. So they've run to us and sought the transportation through the carpool.

SHAPIRO: The National School Transportation Association has called the school bus driver shortage unprecedented at a national level - yet another unprecedented problem in a year unlike any other.

(SOUNDBITE OF ULRICH SCHNAUSS' "KNUDDELMAUS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.