With an alarming shortage of school bus drivers in Baltimore, single mother Ebony Scarlatch is forced to call a Lyft three to four times a week just to get her kids to school. It costs her more than $40 round trip, twice a day.
"I just don't have that extra, those extra funds right now," she said. "And it wasn't budgeted in."
More than half of America's school districts report their driver shortage is "severe" or "desperate," according to a nationwide survey. Many drivers retired during the pandemic, and now some are scared of face-to-face interaction with potentially infected kids.
In Massachusetts, National Guard personnel wereto drive buses, and Pennsylvania is now considering doing the same.
Lynette Washington, the chief operations officer for Baltimore City Public Schools, says she gets a call about a driver shortage "every minute."
In Baltimore, drivers are now calling out sick regularly.
"When we have to call a family at seven o'clock, you've already planned to go to work at 8 a.m. and to say that the bus isn't coming and they all quickly have to find another option to get their child to school and child care. That's a huge problem," Washington said.
Baltimore City offers a $250 monthly transportation stipend for parents like Scarlatch, but her ride-share bill will be nearly $1,000 for the month.
"I can't even look for a job right now," she said. "This is my job right now, and getting them to school"
Adding to the crisis — to become a bus driver, you must have a commercial driver's license, which requires months of training. And with so few applicants in the pipeline, this driver crisis could continue for the rest of the school year.