California school districts have a few state funding resources when it comes to zero-emission school buses. - Photo: CALSTART

California school districts have a few state funding resources when it comes to zero-emission school buses.


In California, more than 25,000 school buses transport roughly 3 million children each day to and from school. This free transportation service is greatly appreciated by local community members who may not have reliable means of transportation to take their children to school.

What the Federal Data Tells Us About California School Transportation

Among the many schoolchildren riding the bus are those who live in and around disadvantaged and low-income communities. According to U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration data, these children account for approximately 60% of riders nationwide and are some of the most vulnerable to environmental hazards and health risks associated with the release of harmful diesel emissions from traditional school buses at pick-up and drop-off locations.

Statewide data from 2011-12 shows that 700,000, or 1 out of every 8, California children ride the bus to school. While this number represents only 12% of school bus passengers, many of these children live in low-income and disadvantaged communities and are the ones most at risk for developing asthma and other respiratory diseases from the toxic air pollutants from diesel tailpipes. Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than 4 million children under age 18 have asthma.

Keeping Healthier School Transportation Options Affordable

It's easy enough to say “school districts in low-income and disadvantaged communities need to get rid of diesel buses and adopt electric school buses to protect our children’s health." But many districts are financially strained and may not be able to afford these new-generation vehicles in their county or the associated charging equipment. So, what’s the next move for a healthier tomorrow?

We are seeing California making a change for the better by tackling the public health concerns associated with diesel school buses. Legislation is in place that has appropriated $1.8 billion over the next five years for acquisition and deployment of zero-emission school buses and charging infrastructure. The state has delivered over 167 electric school buses to some of California’s most disadvantaged communities in Sacramento, Los Angeles, Fresno, and Alameda counties, according to the California Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project (California HVIP). California is being applauded for having the most electric school buses adopted in the nation. According to CALSTART’s 2023 Zeroing in on Electric School Bus (ESB) Report, the state’s efforts represent 56% of total market share.

But we need to see even more school districts adopt zero-emission vehicles and install charging infrastructure so we can put to rest our concerns regarding our children’s health from traditional school bus emissions.

School district decisionmakers looking for a solution can consider statewide incentive opportunities from programs, such as:

The benefits of applying for funding and having electric school buses on school grounds are many: zero fuel costs, less maintenance work, reduced air pollutants, and a lesson for children in the importance of being environmentally responsible.

Having a school district in a disadvantaged community does not have to be a roadblock. There are plenty of funding opportunities available today to help improve school children’s health and educate them about the power of the electric vehicle revolution.

Jennifer Smith is a marketing project manager for medium- and heavy-duty programs at CALSTART.