Chicago Public Schools Prioritizes Transportation for Diverse Learners Amid Ongoing National Bus Driver Shortage
31 July 2023
District Provides Options for Free and Accessible Student Transportation for Priority Students with Special Needs and Those in Temporary Housing
CHICAGO – Chicago Public Schools (CPS) announced today (Monday) that it has confirmed school transportation to date for more than 7,000 priority students - Diverse Learners and Students in Temporary Living Situations (STLS), and that these students, who most need support, will remain the priority this school year amid the ongoing nationwide bus driver shortage. All CPS Pre-K-12th grade classes begin on Aug. 21 for the 2023-24 school year.
“We face many of the same labor shortages of districts across the country, especially in terms of bus drivers,” said CPS CEO Pedro Martinez. “Our team has been working around the clock to find solutions. We’re grateful for Mayor Johnson’s support and leadership as we continue to explore all options with our City and labor partners to make sure every student has access to transportation so they can start the school year strong.”
From July 31st and moving forward, the District will process new requests on an ongoing, or rolling, basis, and continue to prioritize our Diverse Learners and Students in Temporary Living Situations (STLS) to ensure they will have transportation within two weeks of the start of school, while also keeping a focus on reducing route travel times. Families in those two categories can continue to decline transportation and opt to receive an up-to $500 monthly stipend, ($25 per day and contingent on school days) as an alternative to CPS-provided transportation. Families of more than 3,000 students have already accepted the stipend in addition to the more than 7,000 students who are confirmed for transportation.
General education students in selective enrollment or magnet programs will not have access to school bus transportation on the first day of school but free CTA cards will be available for those students for as long as they are without school bus transportation this school year. Parents/guardians can also request a CTA companion pass to cover the transportation costs of an additional person who may need to accompany a child to and from school. State law requires that Diverse Learners whose IEP requires transportation as a related service and Students in Temporary Living Situations receive transportation. Amidst the school bus driver shortage, the Chicago Board of Education outlined a framework prioritizing those who are legally required to receive transportation and then, if there is capacity, transportation owed to general education students, selective enrollment or magnet programs.
“I support the District’s proactive measures to address this ongoing challenging situation,” said Board of Education Member Mary Fahey Hughes, who chairs the newly-formed Special Education Advisory Committee. “It’s critical that CPS prioritizes our students with disabilities and works to ensure they have access to safe and reliable transportation.”
CPS does not own or operate its own fleet of school buses but contracts with 13 school bus companies, including one additional school bus company and five alternative modes of transportation (such as vans and taxis) added over the past couple years to help address the nationwide bus driver shortage. More than 17,000 of the District's 320,000-plus students are eligible for bus transportation; most students can walk to school. Last year, the District transported more than 17,275 students, including 8,659 Diverse Learner students, while families of another 2,037 Diverse Learners accepted the stipend.
To date, the District’s contracted transportation companies have just slightly over half the approximate 1,300 drivers needed to transport all students. In the past year, those companies have increased wages with drivers earning between $20 to $25 an hour and many of the companies have increased their recruitment fairs and added referral bonuses.
The following priorities and accommodations have been set for providing student transportation:
- All Diverse Learners and Students in Temporary Living situations who are eligible for transportation and have opted in for student transportation by July 28, will have service on Aug. 21, the first day of school. The July 28th deadline was set after offering two prior deadline extensions in an effort to ensure as many families as possible can be part of the complex routing process needed to guarantee transportation on the first day of school.
- While the District works on the routing process, families of Diverse Learners and Students in Temporary Living Situations who have not yet been routed will receive $25 per school day, starting Aug. 21 and continuing until transportation services are provided.
- Families with students who are enrolled and identified as Diverse Learners after July 28 can continue to choose the option of receiving an up-to $500 monthly stipend if they do not want to opt into CPS transportation. Payment is issued monthly in arrears and payments are delivered by the U.S. Postal Service to schools.
- For general education students eligible for transportation and in magnet or selective enrollment programs, CPS is providing FREE Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Ventra cards for eligible students and one parent or guardian who may need to accompany a student(s) on the CTA. In order to receive a Ventra card, families must submit a completed CPS form by Aug. 11. The CTA is free for all CPS students on the first day of school, Aug. 21.
- The only general education students in magnet or selective programs who will be routed for school bus transportation by the first day of school are siblings of Diverse Learners who attend the same school.
- The District shared transportation updates with families on Monday, CPS urged all families who need transportation to submit the necessary applications and District and school officials will continue to update families, the Board of Education, and our community on student transportation up until and through the beginning of the school year.