This Phoenix school district is going electric—and neighbors are breathing easier

Two electric school buses at the Osborn School District in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Robert Gundran)

By Robert Gundran

April 19, 2024

The EPA is providing $5 billion in grant funding to replace existing school buses across the country with zero-emission and clean buses.

People living in the Osborn School District are breathing cleaner air, after the Phoenix neighborhood added two new electric school buses to its transportation fleet.

“There is no pollution coming from those school buses when they’re idling and waiting for kids to board,” said Hazel Chandler, an Arizona mom, grandmother, and great-grandmother. “There’s no fumes when the kids are riding the buses, and it also really cuts pollution and fumes in neighborhoods as well.”

Kurt Collins drives school buses for the Osborn School District. He said one of the biggest differences he’s noticed with the new buses is how quiet they are compared to their gasoline counterparts.

“The kids and the parents and the neighborhoods seem to like [the buses] as well,” Collins said.

RELATED: Biden administration announces $20 billion in clean energy grants

The two buses are the first in a fleet of six that the Osborn School District is planning to roll out over the next two school years. The district was able to buy them after two important partners stepped up—the local community and the federal government.

“Back in 2017, we had a $50 million bond,” said Dr. Michael Robert, the district’s superintendent. A bond election allows voters to authorize a loan to the district, which can then pay for renovations, classroom upgrades, and even electric school buses.

The 2017 bond election was followed by another in 2023—that one for a $100 million bond. Robert said that was a signal from Phoenicians that they were invested in the energy-saving projects the district proposed to pay for with the funding. It’s what led school officials to change over half of their school bus fleet to electric by the start of the 2025 school year.

This Phoenix school district is going electric—and neighbors are breathing easier

A bay for electric school buses to park. The parking spots will have charging stations in the future. (Photo by Robert Gundran)

“We purchased them all at the same time,” Robert said, noting that the first two buses are now on the road, and the rest will be delivered soon. “We also applied for an EPA grant.”

He’s referring to the Clean School Bus program from the US Environmental Protection Agency. Using funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill—which President Joe Biden signed into law in 2021—the EPA is providing $5 billion in grant funding to replace existing school buses across the country with zero-emission and clean buses.

Osborn’s six buses are now completely covered by that program. Mesa Unified School District 4 received funding from the Clean School Bus program for 25 new buses. The Isaac Elementary District got six. Clark County’s getting 25, as well.

Hazel Chandler—the Arizona mom, grandmother, and great-grandmother—is a field organizer for the group Moms Clean Air Force. It’s an organization of parents fighting for cleaner air for future generations.

Chandler said Moms Clean Air Force worked with the federal government to get that grant money for electric school buses included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill.

“Clean school buses has been a major issue for [Moms Clean Air Force,” Chandler said. “We’ve done a lot of work to get that included in the [Bipartisan] Infrastructure Act…Most of the money that’s going to school districts now from the EPA is out of the infrastructure money.”

It’s not just activists working toward a better quality of life for kids. Superintendent Robert said people all over his district are looking for ways to make going to school both safer and cleaner.

“We’ve got neighborhood association groups that are [organizing] safe routes to schools and partnerships with the schools to encourage walking and biking to school,” he said.

“It’s critically important that we lower those emissions that are happening in the neighborhoods. That’ll encourage parents to want their kids to walk and ride bikes to school.”

Author

  • Robert Gundran

    Robert Gundran grew up in the Southwest, spending equal time in the Valley and Southern California throughout his life. He graduated from Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism in 2018 and wrote for The Arizona Republic and The Orange County Register.

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