For the schools awarded grants last October as part of the US EPA’s Clean School Bus Program, an April deadline to submit payment request forms for their new buses is fast approaching. Soon enough, the next round of grant applications will be due. Increasing awareness now about the program, which allocates $5 billion over five years, is critical.
Equally critical, based on lessons learned from the first round of funding, is forming coalitions of groups that can help grant awardees answer questions that might come up about charging stations, utilities, and more. This kind of support can help make the transition to electric buses as seamless as possible.
“The best time to make sure school districts have all the information they need and have their questions answered is before the applications are due,” said Tracy Sabetta, Moms’ Ohio field coordinator, who is currently part of a stakeholder coalition being facilitated by the Ohio EPA and the Ohio School Boards Association. Advocates from all walks of life are going to be important to help districts negotiate the process and plan for the future, including teachers, labor unions, clean power groups, school bus employees, electrical contractors, nurses, and so many others. Sabetta is working now to reach out to them all.
Every state received at least one Clean School Bus Program award. There was such strong demand for electric buses that EPA, which had planned to award $500 million in rebates from the program, decided to almost double the amount of funding for the first year.
In Ohio, where 800,000 kids ride close to 16,000 school buses daily, there is currently only one electric school bus in operation. Thanks to grants awarded, 13 new ones should be hitting the road come October. Still, out of 611 school districts in Ohio, only 55 applied in the first round of funding. Sabetta is committed to increasing this number for round two. While 13 buses might sound like a small number, when it comes to the largest transportation fleet in the country, it all adds up.
The health effects of diesel school buses are well established. Tailpipe pollution is shown to trigger asthma attacks, interfere with lung development, contribute to cancer, and reduce children’s ability to learn. The air inside a school bus can be more polluted than the air outside of it; pollution can seep in from the tailpipe and then get trapped inside. This is unhealthy for all on the bus, including drivers, though children are more vulnerable to diesel pollution than adults. Diesel also adds dangerous climate pollution to our air. And yet, almost all of the 480,000 yellow school buses in the US, which transport more than 20 million children each day, are diesel.
Electric school buses have zero tailpipe emissions, as well as lower operating and maintenance costs than diesel. Win-win-win. School districts need to know to submit grant applications to make the switch, especially the highest-need school districts in the most polluted areas, which are disproportionately in low-income communities and communities of color.
Parents interested in having their school district apply for available electric school bus funding can reach out to their superintendents, school board officials, and fellow community members and let them know about the upcoming opportunity.
Awardees for round two in Ohio will have added support in rolling out implementation of new buses if Sabetta has anything to do with it. Logistics can feel complicated but are entirely doable, especially with help. “The funding is there for districts who are ready to move toward electric buses, and more Ohio schools should be in the mix,” said Sabetta. “Districts need to embrace the opportunity to improve the health of their students without worrying about how to put the pieces together. We are here to help put them in the driver’s seat.”