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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE CLOSURE: UPDATES, RESOURCES, AND CONTEXT

NC schools receive $27 million to buy electric buses — what it means for schools

The side of a yellow school bus.
Courtesy of White's IC Bus and Granville County Schools
A significant portion of the grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to fund electric school buses went to Durham Public Schools, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and Cherokee Central Schools, a tribally operated school.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded a group of North Carolina schools nearly 27 million dollars to purchase electric school buses.

The federal funding will go to school districts and charter schools across 13 North Carolina counties, with priority given to schools that serve low-income, rural or tribal communities.

A significant portion of the grant went to Durham Public Schools, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and Cherokee Central Schools, which is a tribally operated school. Other rural school districts and charter schools have been awarded funds to purchase fewer than ten buses each.

Granville County Schools received funds to purchase two electric buses and charging stations. The district's superintendent Stan Winborne said each bus will cost the district about half as much to "fuel" as a diesel bus.

“The price of diesel has skyrocketed and it still really hasn't come down that much compared to regular gasoline,” Winborne said. “In conversations I've had, we could see a savings as much as 50%, easily.”

 Image shows the engine of an electric school bus.
Courtesy of White's IC Bus and Granville County Schools
Granville County Schools Superintendent Stan Winborne said each electric bus will cost the district about half as much to "fuel" as a diesel bus.

Durham Public Schools received the largest grant in the state, worth about $15 million to purchase 38 buses. Once the buses are up and running, they'll make up about a quarter of the school district's bus fleet.

Matthew Palmer supervises transportation at Durham Public Schools. He said the district has been planning for years to begin to electrify its fleet, but these will be their first electric buses.

“If we had to go it on our own, it would be several buses a year over decades,” Palmer said. “This is a slingshot. This really launches us into the modern 21st century.”

Granville County Schools Superintendent Stan Winborne said he’s received positive feedback from his school community about the funding announcement.

“Folks understand that it's going to be a lot more cost effective for the district, better for the environment and safer for kids,” Winborne said.

The electric-run engines will have a smaller carbon footprint than a diesel-run engine, and the lack of exhaust fumes will have a positive impact on local air quality. Winborne pointed to a body of research that suggests diesel exhaust is harmful for children.

A chart that lists schools that will receive federal funding from the EPA to purchase electric school buses and charging infrastructure.
Press release from Governor Roy Cooper's office.
This is the full list of schools that will receive federal funding from the EPA to purchase electric school buses and charging infrastructure.

Granville County Schools plans to begin operating its new electric buses later this spring. With additional funding from a class action settlement with Volkswagen, the small school district expects to have four electric buses in operation by the end of the school year.

Durham Public Schools is working toward building its charging infrastructure, purchasing vehicles and training staff to drive and maintain the buses. Palmer said the district hopes to have its electric buses on the road next school year.

Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Reporter, covering preschool through higher education. Email: lschlemmer@wunc.org