Times of great upheaval also offer the opportunity for great innovation. Our K-12 schools have certainly faced their share of upheaval in the last two years. From remote learning to staffing shortages, our education system has been challenged on nearly every front.
While schools are now returning to normal, one area that districts continue to struggle with is a significant shortage of bus drivers. Across the state, districts are reporting bus driver shortages ranging from 15% to a stunning 40% of jobs that are vacant.
Skyrocketing fuel costs have compounded the challenges with high gas prices squeezing transportation budgets.
As a result, school districts have been forced to consolidate bus routes, leading to fewer stops and longer routes. That has had an enormous impact on students that were already disadvantaged and underserved.
Rather than stand idly by while schools struggle to get kids to school, we need to give our school districts the ability to innovate and adapt as we recover from the pandemic.
That is why we have introduced bipartisan legislation, HB22-1395, to provide grants to school districts across the state to create innovation solutions to their transportation challenges.
This is not the state government imposing a one-size-fits-all solution on local school districts. We have an incredibly diverse state with incredibly diverse needs and challenges, and so any effective solution must be created at the local level.
In Greeley, for example, we have world-class career and technical training programs in our high schools, from Greeley Central High School’s advanced manufacturing program to construction classes at Greeley West and Jefferson High Schools. Next year, students from across the district will be able to attend pre-engineering classes at the world-class Tointon Academy. But if kids don’t have transportation, they miss out on these potentially life-changing opportunities.
We need to empower local school districts in Greeley to create transportation solutions that can ensure every kid can attend the program that best fits their needs, regardless of their parent’s ability to drive them.
Likewise, in Jefferson County, students across the district can attend top-of-line career-connected learning programs at either of our Warren Tech campuses. But in most cases, students and families must provide their own transportation to and from Warren Tech, which creates inequitable access. Our bipartisan bill will empower districts like Jefferson County to create innovative transportation solutions to give more kids access to the school and programs that best fit them and their academic and professional goals.
Colin Larson, R-Littleton, represents District 2 in the Colorado House. Mary Young, D-Greeley, represents District 50 in the Colorado House. Both serve on the House Education Committee. Cleave Simpson, R-Alamosa, represents District 35 in the Colorado Senate.