New Jersey legislators are interested in removing some certification obstacles for folks who want to transport students to and from school in vans.

Advocates say a proposed law advanced by an Assembly committee on June 15 would offer some relief to school districts who are struggling to hire qualified drivers, and create a credentialing system that actually aligns with handling vehicles that aren't as large as a typical school bus.

"The change is not about lowering safety standards," said John Mulholland, executive director of ASAH, a Mercer County-based not-for-profit devoted to private special education.

Under the bill that unanimously cleared the Assembly Labor Committee, an individual can operate a "Type S" school bus without obtaining a commercial driver license, passenger endorsement, or school bus endorsement.

"Type S" refers to vehicles operated by or under contract with schools that are designed to handle no more than nine students and a driver.

"I think it's important to recognize that the operation of a nine-person passenger van is considerably different than large commercial vehicles," Mulholland said.

Currently, the certification process for these wannabe drivers is the same as the process for those who hope to drive a standard school bus. Even as recently as the end of 2022, school districts across New Jersey were struggling to find enough qualified applicants to transport kids to and from school.

A person eligible for the Type S school bus certificate must be at least 21 years old, with a valid license for at least three years, and pass both a physical exam and knowledge exam. Also, the individual needs to undergo training on interacting with students with special needs.

"It will seriously help districts address the shortage of commercial-licensed drivers," said Michael Vrancik, legislative consultant for New Jersey School Business Officials. "The cost of hiring commercial driver-licensed drivers in school districts has gone up dramatically since the pandemic."

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