Article | July 8, 2024
EPA Has Funded 8,000+ Electric School Buses – But Demand Still Outpaces Funding

Most projects selected for EPA funding serve students in school districts disproportionately impacted by air pollution.

Three students step off an electric school bus in front of a school.

In less than two years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean School Bus Program (CSBP) has funded more than 8,000 electric school buses in 49 states, four U.S. territories, Washington DC, and 55 Tribal school districts. 

All told, CSBP funding has been awarded to school districts with more than 16 million students nationwide, helping usher in a new era of clean rides for kids while prioritizing historically underserved communities that face disproportionate air pollution.

It’s a powerful sign that the electric school bus moment is here, and communities in every corner of the country are already seeing the benefits. Here’s what to know. 

The CSBP has funded more than 8,000 electric school buses in 49 states, four U.S. territories, Washington DC, and 55 Tribal school districts — representing districts with more than 16 million students.

A bipartisan answer to dangerous air pollution

The CSBP was created through the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, with bipartisan support paving the way for the EPA to begin awarding funds.  

This historic investment provides $5 billion over five years to replace existing diesel-burning school buses with ones that produce zero or lower tailpipe emissions. Nationwide, there are nearly 500,000 school buses transporting around 21 million students each year — and the vast majority burn diesel fuel to operate.

That’s a problem because diesel exhaust pollution, a known carcinogen, has proven links to serious physical health issues as well as cognitive development impacts.  

Daily exposure contributes to asthma and other respiratory diseases. This is important, as evidence suggests that children are especially susceptible to these impacts due to their developing lungs. Black students, students with disabilities and low-income students rely on diesel-burning school buses more than others, exposing them to these dangers at disproportionate rates.

Diesel exhaust pollution, a known carcinogen, has proven links to serious physical health issues as well as cognitive development impacts.

Electric school buses don’t have any tailpipe emissions, reducing students’ exposure to harmful pollutants in ways which studies have shown can have positive and significant effects on student test scores. Further, electric school buses produce less than half the greenhouse gas emissions of diesel- or propane-burning school buses, even after accounting for emissions from electricity generation. 

How the CSBP is making progress for clean air

As of June 2024, the EPA has released nearly $3 billion through 966 awards through the CSBP. This funding amounts to approximately 8,500 school bus replacements at more than 1,200 school districts. Together, these districts serve 16 million students who stand to benefit from cleaner air.  

Of the school bus replacements funded by the CSBP, 95% will be electric school buses, with nearly 8,100 electric school buses arriving to 49 states, four U.S. territories, Washington DC, and more than 50 Tribal school districts.  

More than 750 of these electric school buses have already been deployed, serving approximately 36,000 student riders across 40 states. School districts in low-income, rural and/or Tribal communities — which the EPA has prioritized for funding — make up approximately 74% of the projects selected for funding.

In many locations, the CSBP is the sole funder for all electric school buses. This includes American Samoa, Arkansas, Washington DC, Guam, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico, South Dakota, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Wisconsin.

Demand for electric school buses has exceeded CSBP funding

So far, the CSBP has completed applicant selections for three rounds of funding opportunities, and in every round the program has seen overwhelming demand from school districts and fleet operators across the country for electric school buses.

More than 2,500 school districts and fleet operators applied for the first two rounds of CSBP funding. Ninety-one percent of applicants sought funds for electric school buses only.

In the first round of rebate funding in 2022, more than 2,000 applications were submitted from school districts and fleet operators in all 50 states, Washington DC, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and more than 20 Tribal school districts. These applicants requested nearly eight times the $500 million that EPA had anticipated making available. In total, districts and fleet operators applied for nearly $4 billion for more than 12,000 school buses — of which 90% were electric. Local demand for electric school buses was so great that the EPA nearly doubled the amount of funding initially available from $500 million to $965 million.  

The second round of CSBP funding awarded nearly $1 billion for 280 school districts through a competitive grant process. Applicants once again exceeded demand expectations by applying for $2 billion in funding — five times the amount originally expected to be awarded. Nearly all awards — 98% — are funding electric school buses, in response to demand from school districts. All told, 275 school districts received funding for electric school buses.  

In May 2024, the EPA announced the selected rebate applicants for its third round of funding. Given the level of demand from low-income communities, Tribal nations and U.S. territories, the EPA doubled the initial amount of available funding from $500 million to nearly $1 billion. Ninety-nine percent of funds went to electric school buses and associated infrastructure, amounting to 3,177 electric school buses out of the 3,441 awarded replacement buses. The EPA is continuing to review applications and may make additional CSBP awards. There are currently 33 tentatively selected school districts eligible for rebate funding, which could amount to an additional 220 electric school buses and $65 million in funding.  

The high level of interest from local communities and school districts seen across all three rounds of CSBP funding underscores the strong demand to transition to electric school buses. At the local level, school districts and fleet operators are demonstrating that they want to bring the air quality, health, climate and cost benefits of electric school buses to their communities —and CSBP funding is helping make it happen. 

Demand for CSBP funding has far outpaced the funds available through the program, showing that at the local level, school districts and fleet operators are eager to bring the benefits of electric school buses to their communities.

Prioritization for historically underserved communities

The CSBP is designated as part of the White House’s Justice40 Initiative, which seeks to ensure at least 40% of benefits from climate programs go to underserved communities disproportionately impacted by pollution.

Overall, the CSBP has led to a more equitable distribution of electric school buses by prioritizing school districts based on whether they were “high need” (focusing on high-poverty districts and those located in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa or Northern Mariana Islands), rural, Tribal or a combination of these criteria.  

The EPA is distributing awards to replace more than 300 diesel-burning school buses with electric school buses at 55 Tribal school districts. These include the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe Day School, Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians Central High School, Oneida Nation School and Umo N Ho N Nation Public School.  

Approximately 20% of CSBP funding awards are going to school districts where more than half of the district population are people of color. This is notable because 12% of school districts nationwide have a population where more than half of the district population are people of color.  Similarly, districts with a majority of people of color account for 40% (3,151) of all CSBP electric school buses awarded and nearly half ($1.3 billion) of the total awarded funds.  

This is particularly important as children from communities of color are also more likely to suffer from asthma, due in part to historically racist lending, transit, housing and zoning policies that concentrated Black and Brown communities closer to highways and other sources of vehicle-based air pollution.

The CSBP has led to a more equitable distribution of electric school buses by prioritizing high-need, rural, and/or Tribal school districts.

Before the first round of CSBP awards in 2022, the largest percentage of all electric school buses in the U.S. were in districts with the smallest shares of low-income households. As of December 2023, two-thirds (66%) of electric school buses are in districts with the highest shares of low-income households.

Further, thanks to the CSBP’s rural prioritization criteria, the share of districts with at least one electric school bus in each type of locale (rural, town, suburban and urban) also now aligns more closely to the distribution of all school districts nationwide among these locales. Thirty- six percent of school districts with at least one committed electric school bus are in rural locales, 25% are in urban, 24% are in suburban and 15% are in town locales. Before the introduction of the CSBP in late 2022, suburban districts held the greatest share of electric school buses, and rural districts accounted for only 20% of school districts with at least one electric school bus.  

More electric school buses are on the way to students

In the first few years of the program’s life, it’s clear that the CSBP has been transformational in the transition to zero-tailpipe-emission electric school buses. There are now 12,100 committed electric school buses in the U.S., of which 67% have been funded by the CSBP. These school buses decrease pollution exposure and improve air quality for students, their families and local communities across the country.  

WRI’s Electric School Bus Initiative has delivered technical assistance to school districts and others throughout multiple rounds of CSBP funding cycles to support the procurement and deployment of electric school buses. Along with advocates like the Alliance for Electric School Buses, the Electric School Bus Initiative will continue to provide resources to and assistance for districts navigating all stages of the fleet electrification process, with a focus on districts in underserved communities, including those who apply to future rounds of CSBP funding opportunities. Sign up for updates from the Electric School Bus Initiative to learn when federal funding opportunities and support are available.

With more rounds of funding to come, school districts and fleet operators nationwide can deliver the benefits of electric school buses to their communities while simultaneously reducing costs and improving the onboard experience for students.

Brian Zepka
Primary Contacts:
Brian Zepka