By Sonita van der Leeuw
MN350 Transportation Organizer

In 2017, Minnesota made history as the first state in the Midwest to get an electric school bus, in Lakeville. So in 2022, when the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law authorized the EPA to offer rebates to replace existing school buses with clean and zero-emission (ZE) models, our Clean Transportation Team engaged more than 30 school boards and gained commitments from 10 schools interested in applying for electric school buses through the EPA’s Clean School Bus Program. The program provides $5 billion over the next five years (FY 2022-2026), prioritizing school districts listed in the Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE), and making zero-emission school buses a reality in our communities.

However, in the first year of the Clean School Bus Program, Minnesota was awarded the least amount of school buses in the region, with only 4 school buses – South Dakota nearly doubled us, securing a total of 7 buses. That means we have our work cut out for us over the next four years!

Michigan received the highest number of school buses in the region, with a total of 138 electric school buses in the first round. Some of this success was due to the support from their governor and state government to implement the EPA’s program. Another example of success comes from New York, which has invested in electric school bus programs and has deployed 10x the number of clean school buses. Additionally, New York has passed legislation that places deadlines to achieve clean bus fleets for students, with dedicated funding to ensure these deadlines are equitably met.

The main reason Minnesota received so few school buses was that we had fewer applications submitted than surrounding states, and the EPA’s selection process is the same as a lottery. Minnesota did not get very lucky due to the lack of applicants. The good news is, there are still four years left in the application process, and this coming year all schools will have to re-apply.

Chuck Laszewski is one MN350 volunteer who worked to encourage school districts throughout Minnesota to apply to the EPA’s Clean School Bus Program.

“Electric school buses are attractive because they improve the quality of the air our children breathe inside the vehicle, resulting in better health for those riding and operating the buses. I am not giving up and I want Minnesota school districts to aggressively try again this year and I especially want Governor Walz to provide the districts with assistance and strong words that they must apply.”

Holly Swiglo is a high school student, activist and MN350 volunteer who is advocating that school districts apply for funding.

“I want to see more electric school buses in my community mainly because of their role in reducing climate change, but also because of the health benefits. I’ve heard many of my peers complain of headaches and motion sickness whenever they ride a school bus. Students shouldn’t have to be exposed to health risks like air pollution just to get to school. This is especially important considering that students from minority communities are more likely to be dependent on school buses for transportation, and young kids face greater impacts of the air pollution created by buses.

I’m fighting for clean energy buses because I need to do my part to protect our environment for future generations. I care about the health and safety of my fellow students and want to ensure that our school transportation system is equitable. In the next round of applications, I hope to see more Minnesota schools apply and be awarded grants, in numbers comparable to our neighboring states.”

Minnesota can be like Michigan and New York and has the potential to have the greatest comeback this next round of funding in the entire region! This legislative session we must ask our state government to prioritize clean air for our children and school employees, including funding for electric school buses.

Our Clean Transportation Team will also be working to get the word and resources out to more priority schools and advocate that school districts such as Minneapolis Public Schools, which did not qualify as a priority school in the first round, qualify in the second round. Neighborhoods in Minneapolis such as North Minneapolis and Phillips, predominantly BIPOC communities, experience asthma hospitalizations at five times the rates as Minnesotans across the state and deserve to be classified as a priority school for this program.

The opportunity to transition away from diesel school buses in Minnesota to clean, zero-emission school buses is right now! Want to learn more? Join me, Chuck, Holly, and many others in working towards this transition. Come to the clean transportation team’s next meeting to learn how you can get involved.


Sonita van der Leeuw is MN350’s Transportation Organizer and has been with the organization since November 2022. In her free time she likes to rollerblade and get outside as much as possible.