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EPA Seeks Comments on Next Round of Clean School Bus Funding

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials solicited feedback from industry stakeholders on how to improve the five-year, $5 billion Clean School Bus Program and what the next funding opportunity for clean school buses should look like.

Karl Simon, the director of transportation and climate for the EPA, stated during an informational session on Wednesday that agency staff were overwhelmed by yet enthusiastic with the number of applications received for the opening of the Clean School Bus Program, which is being administered as a rebate. Simon added that applicants hailed from all 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, America Samoa, and the list of federally recognized tribes. Simon noted that the applications represented a good mix of urban and rural geographic locations.

As School Transportation News previously reported due to the demand, the EPA nearly doubled its initial rebate funding amount of $500 million. Awardees will be announced later this month.

The webinar then provided participants an opportunity to share their thoughts and comments for the upcoming 2023 Clean School Bus Grant program, which the EPA noted will likely include another rebate.

The eligibility, especially in terms of prioritized districts, was the main topic of discussion. Larger school districts such as Chicago Public Schools, Los Angeles Unified School District and Minneapolis Public Schools were reportedly unable to receive priority for funding, despite having large segments of their student enrollment that qualify for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program.

Priority for funding is extended to school districts listed in the U.S. Census Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates School Districts Estimates for 2022. These districts have 20 percent or more students living in poverty and receive higher rebate amounts as a result.

However, one participant on Wednesday’s call noted that even if the school district is below the poverty level by 19 percent of its student enrollment, they receive lower funds that can ultimately discourage them from applying. Instead, the participant advised awarding the funds in a way that if a district has just less than 20 percent of its students receiving free and reduced price lunches, it could still benefit from 90 percent of the top-level funds.

Related: Federal Legislation Looks to Promote V2G for Electric School Buses
Related: San Diego School District Showcases Electric School Buses, Modern Transportation Center
Related: Illinois Lawmakers Voice Concern About Equity of EPA Clean School Bus Program
Related: Contractors Face Potential Limitations Over Access to Clean School Bus Funds

Additionally, EPA said applicant eligibility remains the same for the grant program as the rebate program.

Other comments made Wednesday included the length of the application period, the lack of upfront funding for infrastructure, concerns about power grid resiliency, and application eligibility. For instance, Head Start agencies as well as school bus contractors are not eligible. Other comments related to the number of school buses allowed to be purchased with an award. The 2022 rebate program capped it at 25 buses.

Participants expressed interest in basing the number of buses to be awarded on the percentage of the district’s fleet. One suggestion would allow an application to replace up to 10 percent of the fleet size, but it was noted that could hurt smaller districts with smaller fleets.

The EPA said it is still making determinations for the upcoming grant program and will provide more information as it becomes available.

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