COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD) — School districts across South Carolina are experiencing bus driver shortages — and with the first day of school just a few weeks away, state leaders are stepping in to help.

The South Carolina Department of Education (SCDOE) said almost half of public school students across the state rely on a school bus to get to and from the classroom. But, South Carolina school districts are currently missing about 15% of the drivers they need.

“A bus driver is the first person a student sees every morning, and the last person that student sees every afternoon,” said Mike Bullman, director of transportation for SCDOE.

To address the shortage, the department has launched their Step up, SC campaign — including a “one-stop shop” website highlighting open positions in each district.

“Certainly, we’re not where we need to be, and we encourage everyone to continue to look into these careers if they’re interested,” Bullman said.

Dorchester School District Two officials said they currently need 12 more bus drivers to staff 160 buses for the first day of school. The district said they provide paid training and have “increased each step of the bus driver pay scale” by a dollar.

Berkeley County School District is down to only seven bus driver vacancies, but voiced concerns about the shortage earlier this summer.

“Our bus drivers help them get to school everyday,” said Dr. Natasha Wright, interim chief human resources officer for BCSD, at a teacher recruitment event on July 13. “There’s a great need there.”

Charleston County School District said they currently have enough drivers to staff each of their 370 bus routes.

Bullman said he thinks the bus driver shortage stems from issues related to the pandemic.

“We hope to just raise awareness for these unique opportunities — great careers, and an opportunity to give back to the students of South Carolina,” he said.

The department urges anyone interested in applying for a job to visit and search for openings in any school district across the state. The web page provides information about each opening, as well as links to job applications.

For more information on SCDOE, click here.