Third-party applicants like school transportation contractors and service companies led the way in securing nearly $1 billion through grant applications.  -  Source: Canva

Third-party applicants like school transportation contractors and service companies led the way in securing nearly $1 billion through grant applications.

Source: Canva

In January, the Environmental Protection Agency announced the planned recipients of the first round of Clean School Bus Program grants, awarding nearly $1 billion to applicants across the United States.

That’ll buy more than 2,700 new school buses for 280 school districts.

Here are my primary takeaways after reviewing the EPA data of the applicants who are receiving awards in this round.

Third Party in First Place

Third-party applicants dominated the grant application process, with Highland Electric Fleets leading the way, securing about $148 million in funding for electric school buses and infrastructure for school districts in the southeastern United States, the Midwest, and Colorado and Utah.

Said Duncan McIntyre, CEO of Highland: “This funding will help kick start electrification projects across the country and make the many benefits of electric buses more accessible to school districts and the students and communities they serve. Thanks to the EPA and a robust coalition of partners that help make these projects a reality, thousands more students and the communities they live in will be able to enjoy cleaner, healthier air.”

Bus transportation companies like First Student, Student Transportation of America, and Zum also landed Clean School Bus Program awards for school districts from Pittsburgh to Portland, Ore.

“At Zum, our goal is to ensure that all students have access to safe, reliable, and sustainable transportation, and this grant award will propel our electrification efforts in many of the districts that we serve,” said Ritu Narayan, Zum’s founder and CEO.

School bus manufacturers, including Lion Electric and Greenpower Motor Co., also secured grant funding for districts in Louisiana, Texas, and West Virginia.

“The ongoing investment from the federal government for cleaner school buses will tangibly contribute to the well-being of our children and communities, reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), and increase the number of electric school buses on American roads,” said Nicolas Brunet, Lion’s president.

Self-Certified Levels of Need

Applicants for the Clean School Bus Program grants are given priority based on levels of need, whether it’s because many students live below the poverty line or the school districts serve rural areas.

For these grants, applicants also had the option to self-certify for school districts not represented in the U.S. Census Bureau’s Small Area and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE) or for school districts with more than 35,000 students or more than 45 schools where at least 80% receive Title I grant funding.

Most applicants that qualified for prioritization based on SAIPE data or who self-certified did so based on high-need rather than rural, although some selected applicants (including Vermilion Country School in Minnesota and Lovelady Independent School District in Texas) registered as rural.

Some applicants that were selected for funding didn’t indicate any prioritization at all, including Alameda Unified School District in California, Harrison County Schools in West Virginia, and Granville County Schools in North Carolina.

Plugged In for Electric Buses

Most applicants sought grant funding to acquire electric school buses, with propane coming in a distant second. No one indicated plans to purchase compressed natural gas (CNG) buses in this round. That’s not terribly surprising, I suppose, given how few school districts listed the inclusion of CNG buses in their fleets for our 2023 top district fleets survey.

However, it’s not impossible for CNG to get on the board or for propane to close the gap with electric at least a little, as some applicants put “to be determined” (TBD) for the types of buses they intend to purchase with their grant money.

Next, we’re keeping an eye on the new round of Clean School Bus Program rebates. Originally, the EPA had set Jan. 31 as the deadline for rebate applications, but that was pushed back to Feb. 14. The rebate program sets aside $500 million for school districts and private contractor fleets to replace diesel school buses with electric, propane, or CNG.

This rebate round also allows self-certification for school districts, and provides an exception to the requirement that a new bus must serve the same district for a minimum of five years if a private bus fleet’s contract ends. The bus just needs to go next to a similarly prioritized district.

Reach out to School Bus Fleet Executive Editor Wes Platt at wes.platt@bobit.com.

About the author
Wes Platt

Wes Platt

Executive Editor

Wes Platt joined Bobit in 2021 as executive editor of School Bus Fleet Magazine. He writes and edits content about student transportation, school bus manufacturers and equipment, legislative issues, maintenance, fleet contracting, and school transportation technology - from classic yellow diesel buses to the latest EPA-funded electric, propane, and CNG vehicles.

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