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Low pay, lack of funding fueling Arizona's bus driver shortage

school bus AP
Posted at 4:21 PM, Sep 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-29 20:24:00-04

PHOENIX — The shortage of school bus drivers is impacting the state of education daily. It is an issue ABC15 has been reporting on for years, but one that is now reaching crisis levels.

Phoenix's Madison School District celebrated their drivers Wednesday, hosting a surprise day of appreciation to thank employees like Kim Gaines for all their hard work.

"Twenty-five years, my mom drove for 30," said Gaines. "It's definitely the students, I mean they're just, they are great and it's a lot of fun."

Gaines is the lead trainer in the district and with staffing down 25%, Madison is working hard to get more trainees on board. The district is now advertising incentives like $500 hiring stipends, on-site training for a commercial driver's license, and higher pay to help ease the growing impact on students and their families.

"For many students, it's their only way to get to school or get back home," said Deputy Superintendent Lori Garvey. "Some of our routes had to become longer, we aren't able to provide all of the shuttles that we used to from central places to our schools."

Heidi Vega with the Arizona School Boards Association says the years-long shortage is only getting worse and it is rooted in a bigger issue.

"We continue to be one of the lowest-funded states across the nation and that's just something that we cannot ignore," said Vega.

She says low pay is a major factor driving, or keeping people away, but also the increasing tensions surrounding public education, especially over these past two years.

"That toxic climate, or that negative perception," said Vega.

So as districts across the state roll out new ways to keep their buses on the roads, Gaines has this to say for anyone who may be interested in getting behind the wheel.

"It's one of the best jobs I've ever done," said Gaines.

Officials say job openings are district specific so if you're interested, check your district's website to apply.