UniteGPS – This past week the UniteGPS team received an interesting inquiry from a partner asking about the new ELDT curriculum that’s worth sharing. Specifically, this person expressed concern about covering the ELDT costs for prospective bus drivers without having any guarantee of the employee actually coming back.

“How are the ELDT requirements affecting other districts and what are their plans going forward?” said the correspondence to UniteGPS. “My concern is training drivers at our cost and having the driver leave for employers that offer higher wages for the credential enhancement.”

Let’s recap before we begin.

ELDT curriculum background 

Meaning entry-level driver training, the ELDT curriculum came into effect on Feb. 7, 2022, under the auspices of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). It requires prospective bus and truck drivers to successfully pass 31 theoretical areas and a behind-the-wheel exam before fulfilling state training requirements.

Based on these new demands to acquire a CDL, very few transportation leaders look at the ELDT curriculum favorably. Not only do they add more expenses but also elongate the hiring time, which can be stressful, especially during a national hiring shortage. Some places are even experiencing driver testing backlogs at DMVs due to the increased demand.

Moreover, the ELDT curriculum creates what many consider to be unnecessary technical knowledge, such as the under the hood portion where drivers must identify engine parts. Although the FMCSA permitted a temporary waiver of this exam component that expired earlier this month, many transit leaders ultimately saw this as an empty gesture in terms of use since the exemption expired in March.

How to approach ELDT curriculum 

Concerns about covering ELDT costs for bus driver applicants reinforce the industry’s retention issues and how new CDL requirements will intensify this issue. The fact of the matter is that limited working hours and historically low benefits have always deterred drivers from operating school buses. Now it’s safe to say that more demanding CDL training requirements will only perpetuate the retention issue further.

At the end of the day, school districts and transportation agencies have yet another battle to overcome to attract new drivers. There is no easy way to ensure that bus drivers actually come to work for the school district after completing their ELDT. 

To prevent bus drivers from receiving free training from an employer only to eventually leave for a company like Amazon offering higher wages, one of the most advantageous ideas to prevent this from happening would be creating service agreements for driving personnel. 

That’s to say, in order for them to receive the free training for their CDL credentials, they must agree to work for a specified amount of time. This strategy is something I recently came across in Washington, D.C. where agencies are reaching out to taxi drivers to become bus drivers. However, the training is only provided if they agree to work for at least six months. After they pass this threshold, then they become eligible to receive bonuses. 

Better contracts, better pay 

Along those lines, the issue of limited full-time working opportunities can also be fixed with improved working contracts. For example, Tulsa Public Schools in Oklahoma recently started offering year-round contracts to bus drivers in hopes of motivating them to stick around longer. 

Speaking of financial incentives, money talks the most in this situation. Roanoke County Public Schools in Virginia exemplifies this by giving a $1,000 bonus to new bus drivers after they complete the ELDT. Similarly, Thomas County School District in Georgia has implemented the same procedure. Practically every person I have spoken to has implemented sign-on bonuses and financial incentives, such as $500 bonuses every six months for flawless safe driving

For the school district’s own reassurance, it may also be a wise idea to start recruiting pre-existing faculty and staff to get behind the wheel of a school bus. By starting to combine roles, you don’t have to worry as much about bringing in outside applicants. Take Webster Parish School Board in Louisiana, for example, which recently started training teachers and counselors as school bus drivers.

There are also a handful of examples of schools launching their own CDL programs that could potentially reduce costs. Take Minot Public School District in North Dakota which received a $6.7 million grant to launch its own training center. New Jersey lawmakers also recently drafted bill S-2153 allowing school districts to directly administer ELDT and other CDL services in-house instead of having to outsource.