Electric school buses are coming to New York within five years
Students catch a bus in Auburn in 2019.
Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen
One of the transportation initiatives in the state budget approved by state legislators Saturday will change the way kids get to school in five years.
While superintendents are looking at record state aid in the budget, they also are taking in a new mandate: New York State will require all new school buses to have zero emissions by 2027. The switchover from diesel to electric, or zero emission, will take place by 2035, when all buses on the road are to be electric.
"We are going to lead the nation in removing school buses from the fossil fuel footprint," state Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, said. "We have created with this the most aggressive timeline in the nation."
Kennedy said the state would provide support for schools through the Office of General Services and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.
Funding for the buses and the charging station infrastructure that will be needed is included in the proposed $3 billion Environmental Bond Act, which will go before voters in November. There is $500 million for school districts for the buses and changes in infrastructure, such as charging stations, that will be needed, Kennedy said.
The bus initiative presents opportunities and challenges, according to New York State Council of School Superintendents Executive Director Charles Dedrick.
“The $500 million allocation in the environmental bond act for zero-emission school buses will be a significant help to school districts with the costs of this transition," Dedrick said in a statement. "The inclusion of an opportunity for districts to receive an extension in the deadline to purchase only zero-emission buses shows recognition of the varied challenges this transition will pose for districts across the state."
Kennedy said the state also would provide support for retraining those who maintain the buses so workers will not be displaced. He said there also is an opportunity to create thousands of jobs for electric school bus manufacturers to make the buses in New York.
"It's not just an environmental justice initiative, it's a social justice initiative," Kennedy said.
He said there are health disparities linked to pollution based on transportation, particularly in disadvantaged urban communities, which are often communities of color.
"If we can prevent our children from breathing these toxic diesel fumes that pour out of these school buses on a daily basis, it's going to help resolve many health issues across our communities, across our state," Kennedy said.
The plan is getting accolades from the American Lung Association and environmental groups.
The lung association said the transition in New York would generate $68.2 billion in public health benefits and result in up to 6,200 avoided deaths and 159,000 avoided asthma attacks.
“Gov. Hochul and the Legislature, by including the electric school bus initiative and bond act funding in the state budget, are protecting our kids from harmful diesel pollution, reducing climate emissions, and creating jobs," Deb Peck Kelleher, director of policy analysis for the Alliance for Clean Energy New York, said in a statement. "We are so excited to know that before they graduate, today’s kindergarteners will see a brighter, cleaner, all-electric school bus future.”
While the state budget was more than a week late in getting passed, that did not mean local school superintendents had to wait with pencil in hand to cut their proposed budgets in case state aid did not come through.
Schools will receive a record $31.5 billion in aid, an increase of $2.1 billion, or 7%, over last year.
It includes the second year of a three-year phase-in of fully funded foundation aid, which is the funding source for most school operations. There also is an increase of $125 million for universal prekindergarten, $100 million over two years in matching funds for enhanced education and mental health support to help recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, and $58 million for science, technology, engineering and math programs in nonpublic schools.
The funding is getting high marks from some statewide education groups.
It offers a "taste of predictability and stability," according to the head of New York State School Boards Association.
"School boards greatly appreciate this opportunity to step off the roller coaster ride that too often has taken us through New York’s budget process" Robert S. Schneider, executive director of the association, said in a statement. "This spending plan proves that reaching a school aid agreement does not need to be a high-stakes cliff-hanger in order to yield good results for our students."
The budget also includes more than $500 million in additional support of SUNY and CUNY operations and $2.2 billion in capital projects on their campuses.
It also expands TAP, the Tuition Assistance Program, by $150 million to cover students enrolled in six or more credits of study at a SUNY, CUNY or nonprofit independent college. The funding is estimated to cover an additional 75,000 students each year.