Back to School: A Pulse Check on Electric School Bus Adoption

School buses are the most popular form of public transportation in the United States. Every day, nearly half a million yellow buses shuttle our kids to and from school. 

In May, the Environmental Protection Agency  made $500 million in funding available to schools to update their bus fleets from diesel power to cleaner fuels, such as electricity. It’s the first round of funding of a planned $5 billion investment for low- and zero-emission school buses over the next five years as part of the bipartisan bill’s larger infrastructure investment. 

The adoption of electric school buses varies across the country. States such as New York and California have passed electric vehicle mandates, requiring all school buses on their roads to be powered by electric batteries by a certain model-year. Others, like Michigan, are taking a staggered approach, engaging voters in electrifying one school district at a time.

How diesel engines impact the environment—and our health

In 2020, diesel engines accounted for approximately 26% of all the emissions across the U.S. transportation sector. That’s around 9% of all CO2 emissions in the U.S. The European Respiratory Journal reports that health risks associated with diesel exhaust include irritation of the nose and eyes, lung function changes, respiratory changes, headache, fatigue, and nausea. 

And experts say those burdens are carried more often by rural and low-income areas. A 2019 study from the American Lung Association found that minority communities, as well as communities with low income and a higher reliance on public transportation all faced greater exposure to air pollution.

When is my state updating our school buses?

As of March 2022, 38 states have committed to implementing electric school buses, according to the World Resources Institute (WRI). The institute considers an electric school bus committed “when a school district, bus dealer, or fleet operator has been awarded funding to purchase it, or has made a formal agreement for purchase with a manufacturer.” So far, the three states served by Wabash Valley Power member co-ops have committed to 114 electric buses, with Illinois leading the way at 89 commitments.

Electric school bus commitments are growing

WRI has been tracking electric school bus adoption across all states since last August. The increase in funding availability has led to an increase in electric school bus commitments. As of last month, school districts and fleet operators have committed to implementing 12,275 electric school buses. That’s six times more since the release of WRI’s January dataset, and almost a tenfold increase since the organization began tracking the data. 

It may take a little longer before your school district has electric buses, but all of the data says the transition is underway. As these buses become more common across co-op territories, we’ll be sure to keep you updated on the progress, how it will impact the grid, and what it means for our co-op members. 

It’s an exciting time to go electric. To learn more about electric vehicles, visit our electric vehicles page.