State, federal laws make it easier than ever to transition to electric school buses

Now is a better time than ever for schools to switch to clean electric vehicles, which have no tailpipe emissions, can save money over time and can even help stabilize the electric system with vehicle-to-grid technology.

Clean air

Electric school buses charging
Lion Electric

If you grew up in the United States, it’s likely that you’ve ridden in a yellow school bus at least once. You can probably remember the sound of the engine and socializing with your friends. But you may also remember the distinctive smell of the diesel exhaust. What you most likely didn’t know about at the time was the negative health and environmental effects that diesel exhaust can cause. Diesel fumes have been linked to cancer, asthma, and academic impairment in children exposed in buses and at bus stops. They also contribute to climate change through greenhouse gas emissions.

The good news? Now is a better time than ever for schools to switch to clean electric vehicles, which have no tailpipe emissions, can save money over time and can even help stabilize the electric system with vehicle-to-grid technology. Earlier this month, President Joe Biden  signed into law the Inflation Reduction Act, which provides $1 billion for heavy duty vehicle electrification. This money comes on top of up to $5 billion that the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act set aside for the Clean School Bus Program. External funding like this is vital to cover the upfront cost of transitioning to electric buses, which cost more than diesel, but save money in fuel and maintenance over time. But it’s not just the federal government getting involved. 

Photo credit: Matt Casale

State governments have been taking major steps this year to speed up the transition to electric school buses. States in all corners of the country have taken other actions to support the deployment of electric school buses. In particular, Colorado, New Jersey, Connecticut, California and Maryland have made the biggest strides to provide funding for electric school bus programs. 

After the state’s governor signed SB22-193 into law, Colorado has made the highest per capita investment in electric school buses of any state so far. The bill provides $67 million to school districts for electric buses, as well as a $12 million ebike incentive program, the largest in the country. 

On the East coast, New Jersey’s electric bus law, S759/A1282, provides $45 million over three years to six school districts for electric buses, with a focus on areas overburdened by pollution. 

Connecticut’s SB4 established a $20 million grant program for electric buses. It also allows school districts to enter into 10 year contracts for electric buses as opposed to just five, making it easier for school districts to reap the financial benefit of electric buses, which tend to accumulate over the lifetime of the bus with lower fuel and maintenance costs. Connecticut’s SB4 established a goal to transition the state’s fleet to electric school buses by 2030 for school districts containing or located within an environmental justice community, and by 2040 for the rest of the state.

Maryland, SB 528 established a pilot program for electric school buses, with up to $50 million in funding per investor-owned utility in the state. The funding is part of a larger climate bill that also sets a requirement that all new school bus purchases and contracts must be electric by 2025.

California’s 2022-2023 budget has $1.5 billion to create a zero-emission school bus program and fund both electric school buses as well as charging infrastructure. If passed by the state’s senate, California’s AB 2731 would require all school buses purchased after 2035 to be electric, and would also extend the allowed length of school bus contracts and leases to 15-20 years.

New York’s budget includes $500 million in environmental bonds giving school districts financial assistance for electric school buses and charging infrastructure, as well as technical assistance, if voters approve it this November. The 2023 state budget mandates that all new school bus purchases be electric by 2027, and that the fleet is completely electric by 2035.

Other states have set ambitious goals for electrifying their school buses. Maine’s LD 1579 established a target of 75% of hybrid or zero-emission bus purchases by 2035, and also created a working group to assist in deployment. Arizona’s SB 1246 makes it easier for school districts to switch to electric buses by giving them resources and information on bus vendors, and establishes that there must be a person who has expertise with electric fleets or EV charging on the state School Bus Advisory Council. West Virginia’s HB 4571 increases the transportation reimbursement for alternative fueled vehicles, including electric school buses, by 10% , with an extra 5% allotment if they were manufactured in the state. In Washington, HB 1644 allows for money from the state’s transportation fund to be used for electric school bus charging infrastructure, feasibility plans, and electric conversions. 

Mississippi’s SB 2887 allowed school districts to purchase, own and operate electric school buses, and for electric school bus companies to submit proposals for the first time. Soon after, the state’s capital debuted its first electric school buses. In Idaho, S1319 extended the length of possible electric school bus contracts from five years to ten. Indiana’s HB 1221 allows for utilities to create pilot programs for adoption incentives and charging infrastructure of public electric vehicles, such as school buses. Minnesota’s state legislature has similar bills in the state House and Senate that, if passed, would allow public utilities to create programs to promote the deployment of electric school buses.

Knowledge of and support for electric school buses is growing across the nation. While more resources are needed to convert all diesel school buses to electric, seeing so many states pass legislation to encourage adoption of electric buses, often with bipartisan support, shows there is growing momentum for turning the yellow school bus green.

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Matt Casale

Director, Environment Campaigns, PIRG

Matt oversees PIRG's toxics, transportation and zero waste campaigns and leads PIRG’s climate program to promote a cleaner, healthier future for all Americans. Matt lives in Amherst, Massachusetts, with his wife, two daughters and chihuahua.

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