116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — Iowa public school districts can apply for federal funding to replace diesel school buses with zero-emission and low-emission models, State Auditor Rob Sand said Monday.
School district “funding from the state has not kept up with inflation for years, even prior to inflation being a problem,” Sand, a Democrat facing re-election this year, told reporters at a news conference. “And now that inflation is a problem, and we are dealing with high fuel prices constantly, this could be actually an incredibly promising program for a lot of school districts to be able to save a good amount of money.”
The funding, made available through the bipartisan federal infrastructure law passed in 2021, will give grants to districts looking to swap old buses with more energy-efficient models. A districts could replace up to 25 buses with the funds.
The money will be granted through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is accepting applications through Aug. 19. The agency will dole out $500 million in grants, rebates and contracts in the first year of the program, and a total of $5 billion through 2026.
To be eligible for the grants, a district’s buses must meet some conditions:
•Be a model year 2010 or older and diesel-powered
•Have a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,001 pounds or more
•Be operational when the application is submitted
•Have been used as a public-school bus service for at least three days a week during the 2021-2022 school year
The new buses replacing the old ones must be battery powered or run on compressed natural gas or propane, which emit less greenhouse gasses than diesel. They also have to be model year 2021 or newer and have a gross weight rating over 10,001 pounds.
The amount granted to each district depends on the type of bus purchased and whether the district is prioritized.
The EPA's list of prioritized districts includes 204 Iowa districts, most of which are prioritized because they are rural. Prioritized districts include rural districts, districts with a high poverty rate and districts funded by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.
“There is not a certain allotment set for Iowa, and so if we do a good job of getting applications in, we could really make great investments in our school bus fleet,” Sand said.
Sand said he didn’t know how many districts had already applied for the grants. In 2020, the Iowa City Community School District announced it planned to replace its fleet with electric vehicles over the next decade.
School buses account for an estimated 8.4 million metric tons of carbon emissions a year nationwide, according to 2018 research. Electric school buses can cost as much as $400,000, about double the cost of a diesel bus, making the switch prohibitive for some districts without government funding.
Sand said electric buses would reduce maintenance cost because they have less moving parts than a diesel bus. Districts could also sell energy from full-battery buses back to the grid.
“If you charge them at night with cheaper electricity, you can then be selling that electricity back to the grid during the day, and the school district could potentially use that literally as a moneymaking mechanism as well,” he said.