Local View: Electric school buses would improve Minnesota kids' health, academics
From the column: "The benefits of electric school buses go beyond health."
Every school day, the health and wellness of hundreds of thousands of Minnesota’s K-12 students are put at risk. The culprit is harmful diesel emissions from the very school buses we trust to deliver our kids to and from school.
Diesel school buses can have levels of diesel particulate matter up to 15 times higher than background levels, according to Environment and Human Health Inc., increasing the risk of numerous health conditions , including asthma, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and birth anomalies.
The health impacts from these emissions harm drivers and school employees as well as students.
It is even worse for students of color and low-income students who are already disproportionately exposed to high levels of air pollution. For example, data have shown kids living in the predominantly BIPOC Twin Cities neighborhoods of North Minneapolis and East Phillips experience asthma hospitalizations at five times the rates of Minnesotans across the state.
As a retired physician and career health professional, and as the parent of an asthmatic child, we are calling on the state Legislature to make a meaningful investment in the health and futures of our kids by creating a grant program to help schools across the state invest in electric school buses.
Six-year-old Cory “CJ” Roper will attend first grade in Hopkins, Minnesota, next fall. We noticed that when CJ would ride the school bus for field trips and other activities, the diesel fumes aggravated his asthma symptoms. CJ wanted to keep riding the bus with his friends, but his parents decided that to protect CJ’s health we needed to find an alternative to the school bus as CJ’s primary mode of transportation. Hopefully, someday, Hopkins schools will be able to invest in zero-emission electric school buses with the help of federal and state grants.
The benefits of electric school buses go beyond health. Large-scale randomized studies have shown that students who were exposed to lower diesel bus emissions had 8% fewer absent school days , better lung function, and improved academic test scores . A single electric school bus can save a school $4,000 to $11,000 on fuel and maintenance costs annually, allowing more investment in education programs, teachers, and staff, as CleanTechnica reported in February 2022.
In spite of all these benefits, Minnesota lags behind all other Midwestern states in acquiring electric school bus funding. In 2022, the bipartisan infrastructure law’s Clean School Bus Program awarded the first $1 billion in rebates, providing fully funded electric school buses for thousands of schools nationwide. Unfortunately, Minnesota received only $1.6 million to purchase four electric school buses. In comparison, Michigan received $54 million for 138 electric buses, Wisconsin received $25 million for 65 electric buses, Iowa received $11.5 million for 29 electric buses, and South Dakota received $2.8 million for seven electric buses.
We appreciate that the Minnesota House recently passed legislation including $14 million for electric school buses, but a similar Senate bill includes only $7 million ; $14 million would cover the cost of about 30 electric school buses, which would be a good start, but Minnesota would still have a long way to go.
Our state has more than 13,000 diesel school buses and over 2,200 of the most-polluting 2009-or-older diesel school buses. Other states are doing much more, including New York, which is committed to achieving a zero-emission school-bus fleet by 2035 and passed an additional $500 million of state funding for electric school buses. Last year, Colorado legislators passed a school-bus electrification grant program with initial funding of $65 million and is investing in a transportation technical-assistance program for schools. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan is including $150 million in electric school bus funding in her 2023 budget proposal.
Students like CJ deserve to ride to school with their classmates, without sacrificing their health or academic success. We urge Minnesota legislators to pass electric school bus legislation that includes a substantial and meaningful financial investment in clean school buses, so that more Minnesota students are protected from dangerous diesel emissions when they ride to and from school.
Brooke Roper of Hopkins, Minnesota, is a social entrepreneur, a community connector, and is civically engaged with MN350, New Salem Missionary Baptist Church, NASA, and other organizations. She is also the parent of Cory and Brooklyn Roper. Dr. Daniel Trajano of Savage, Minnesota, is a retired family physician and a professor of health care finance and economics at the University of Minnesota and University of St. Thomas, both in the Twin Cities. He also volunteers with MN350, Health Professionals for a Healthy Climate, the EcoFaith Network of the Minneapolis Synod, and the 100% Campaign.