Massachusetts activates up to 250 National Guard troops to drive school vans

Gov. Charlie Baker said getting children to school safely is critical.

By Steve Almasy, CNN

(CNN) -- Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday activated up to 250 National Guard troops to help with school transportation at the start of the academic year, according to a statement from his office.

On Tuesday, 90 of the Guard personnel will begin training to assist with school transportation services to address staffing shortages in certain school districts across the state, the statement reads.

"The safe and reliable transportation to school each day is critical to our children's safety and education," the governor said in a tweet.

School districts across the nation have seen higher than normal shortages of bus drivers. Some have offered signing bonuses for new drivers, some have paid parents to drive buses, and at least one has said buses won't be available for all students each week.

In a survey of school districts last month, 65% "indicated that bus driver shortage is their number one problem or concern," according to a release by the National Association for Pupil Transportation, the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, and the National School Transportation Association, which conducted the joint survey.

"As school districts across the country return to in-person learning and COVID continues to have an impact on education in general and school transportation scheduling and logistics in particular, the shortage of school bus drivers has become conspicuous," NAPT Executive Director Mike Martin said in the release. "But let's be clear -- this is not a new problem. Nor it is easy to solve."

More than three-quarters -- 78% -- indicated that the shortage of bus drivers is getting "much worse" or "a little worse, and 51% said the shortage is "severe" or "desperate," the survey found.

"Every region in the country is currently altering transportation service due to COVID," the release said.

Half of those who responded to the survey said the rate of pay is "a major factor affecting their ability to recruit and retain drivers."

Almost half -- 45% -- said the time it took to get a commercial driver license was a factor, while 38% said the "availability of benefits" and the "hours available to work" were factors.

Respondents were allowed to give multiple answers.

In Massachusetts, Guard personnel will train to drive 7D vehicles, vans that can carry up to 10 passengers, the statement said.

"As with any school transportation worker, all activated Guard personnel will complete vehicle training to ensure the safety of children and families," the governor's office statement says. "Drivers will meet all statutory requirements for 7D drivers. Throughout the mission, the Guard will comply with all health and safety measures."

The first four school districts are in the cities of Chelsea, Lawrence, Lowell and Lynn.

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