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Minnesota schools and bus companies, go electric — and use new grants

Research has shown that students breathing in lower diesel bus emissions miss 8% fewer school days, their lungs function better and their academic test scores improve.

An electric school bus
An electric school bus
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

Here in Minnesota, we like to think of ourselves as leaders, especially when it comes to providing our kids a world class education and a chance at a brighter future. In order for our kids to be best prepared to succeed, they need to be healthy. Yet before so many of our kids get to the classroom in the morning, they are breathing harmful emissions from diesel school buses.

As author’s of our state’s first electric school bus law, we believe it’s time for a change. The science is clear. Inside diesel school buses, developing lungs are breathing ultramicroscopic particulate matter pollution. The levels inside can be a staggering 15 times higher than the background levels leading to increased risks of asthma, cancers, cardiovascular diseases and birth anomalies.

It’s not just the students who suffer either. The drivers, teachers and the school staff are all exposed to these toxic emissions.

And it’s often the students of color and low-income students who suffer the most, already burdened with a disproportionate amount of air pollution. Take north Minneapolis and East Phillips, for instance. Kids in those neighborhoods experience asthma hospitalizations at a rate that’s nearly three times higher than the rest of the state.

Thankfully, there is a solution: zero-emission electric school buses. Not only do electric school buses bring health benefits, they also have a positive impact on education. Research has shown that students breathing in lower diesel bus emissions miss 8% fewer school days, their lungs function better and their academic test scores improve.

In addition, electric buses save schools money. Each electric bus can save a school anywhere from $4,000 to $11,000 annually on fuel and maintenance costs, which can be reinvested in education programs, teachers and staff.

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Yet when it comes to electric buses, Minnesota has some catching up to do. The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act has allocated $5 billion in EPA grants and rebates for schools to buy these clean school buses. But in 2022, Minnesota only received $1.6 million for just four electric school buses. That’s less than 0.02% of the first billion dollars awarded.

Meanwhile, our neighbors in Michigan came away with $54 million to fully fund 138 new electric school buses and vehicle chargers. And New York has committed to a carbon-free school bus fleet by 2035 and passed legislation with an additional $500 million in state funding for electric school buses. We can do better.

State Sen. Lindsey Port
State Sen. Lindsey Port
Our electric school bus legislation establishes a first-ever $13 million grant program specifically designed to fund electric school buses, with a focus on Minnesota’s rural, tribal and economically disadvantaged schools. Furthermore, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency accepted applications to distribute $2.9 million in electric school bus grants. And there are still resources available from the federal bipartisan infrastructure law’s Clean School Bus Program as well.

State Rep. Jessica Hanson
State Rep. Jessica Hanson
These programs have the potential to improve the health and academic performance of hundreds of thousands of Minnesota students riding in dirty diesel buses, but only if school districts take advantage of this opportunity. Let’s rally our Minnesota schools and transportation companies, especially those in environmental justice communities, where racial, economic and health disparities hit the hardest. Talk to your school board members and fellow parents and help us put this on the radar of every school in the state.

It’s time for Minnesota to lead once again, securing electric school bus funding so that we can give our children and communities the healthier, brighter future they deserve.

Lindsey Port, DFL, represents Burnsville and Savage in the Minnesota Senate. Jessica Hanson, DFL, represents Savage and northwest Burnsville in the Minnesota House of Representatives.