Shanti Menon 2 minute read

Back-to-school: Electric buses offer kids a cleaner, healthier ride


As the new school year gets underway, millions of parents are snapping first-day photos and loading their kids onto bright yellow school buses. In some districts, some of those iconic yellow buses will also be green, at least on the inside — they’re electric, and don’t produce any tailpipe pollution. 

Kids file onto a yellow school bus
The big yellow school buses are going electric. (Sarah Silbiger/Moms Clean Air Force)

More than 20 million kids in the U.S. ride the bus to school, and the vast majority of those school buses run on diesel fuel. 

Diesel exhaust harms children’s lungs and brains and contributes to climate change.

But a new wave of clean buses is starting to roll out, thanks to a big boost of federal funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act

Carmen Cortez is a bus driver for Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland. In 2021, she was selected to participate in an electric bus pilot program for an elementary school. 

Carmen Cortez stands behind a school bus
Maryland school bus driver Carmen Cortez advocates for clean electric school buses. (Voz de America)

“I resisted at first, because I did not know what this change implied in my work,” she says. “But the day I drove the vehicle I could feel how quiet it was, and the most important thing is that I was able to breathe cleaner air. This change was not only felt by me, but also by the students who got on my bus and the neighbors who live on the routes where I traveled.”

Today, Cortez trains other electric bus drivers for the district’s program, which is set to expand from 86 to 326 electric buses in the coming years. In fact, nearly 400 school districts from Guam to Maine will soon be rolling out electric buses, thanks to the first round of funding from the Environmental Protection Agency’s $5 billion Clean School Bus Program. In 2022, the agency awarded the first $1 billion in grants, paving the way for thousands of electric buses to hit the road nationwide in 2024. 

To date, more than 5,600 electric school buses have been ordered, delivered, put in operation or funded through government awards.

There’s still a long way to go. The current orders account for just about 1 percent of the nation’s school bus fleet. Another round of EPA grants will be distributed this fall. Tax credits and other funding from the Inflation Reduction Act will also help schools move from dirty buses to cleaner fleets. 

Cortez, who is also a volunteer with Moms Clean Air Force/EcoMadres, a clean air advocacy and Latino outreach group, says she is proud to see her district’s electric bus program growing. 

“My community and low-income communities are the ones who face the impact of daily pollution,” she says. “I am very hopeful that all schools in all states can have access to electric school buses.”

Hope for a warming planet

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