Despite contentious political circumstances in legislatures across the country, fiscally responsible legislation to support advanced energy technologies can draw bipartisan support. An example of this came in Arizona this summer, where both sides of the aisle came together to pass smart legislation that gives schools and students access to cleaner transportation. The Arizona bill also shows another way to open up opportunities for electric school buses in states of every political stripe.
SB 1246, sponsored by Sen. Paul Boyer (R-Glendale), is designed to save schools time and money when they evaluate school bus options. The bill creates an administrative pathway to fast track the approval of existing vendors of electric school buses, charging management services, and electric-vehicles-as-a-service (EVaaS) for school transportation fleets. On July 6, Gov. Doug Ducey signed the bill into law, making it easier for Arizona schools to choose electric transportation for their students.
One of the many practical aspects of this bill is that it makes use of an already existing state entity, the School Bus Advisory Council, housed under the Arizona Department of Public Safety, to qualify vendors for districts to consider. SB 1246 tasks the council with carrying out a “request for proposal” process to provide schools with a shortlist of pre-approved electric school bus vendors. School administrators interested in electric school buses or related services can avoid spending time soliciting district-level proposals and instead directly contact pre-approved businesses.
In short, the bill saves schools time and money, allowing Arizona education administrators to focus their attention on the essential components of their job, while resting easy that they’ve responsibly selected a partner for this new transportation option for their district. Shortlisted vendors included on the School Bus Advisory Council’s list also benefit from the bill, as endorsement from a respected state body will make it easier to connect with customers interested in going electric with school transportation.
Interest in electric school buses has been growing in Arizona. Last year, a poll from the American Lung Association found that nearly seven in 10 Arizona voters supported federal investments to transition school buses away from diesel-powered vehicles. In Phoenix, grassroots organization Chispa Arizona helped pass a local bond proposal that enabled the purchase of an electric school bus, and other city school districts, including Phoenix Union High School District and Cartwright Elementary School District, also have invested in electric school buses to cut down on tailpipe emissions when transporting students to and from school.
The idea for legislation came from AEE member company Highland Electric Fleets, which noted that navigating rules for school transportation procurement and proposal processes can be arduous for companies offering services outside of how schools usually procure school buses. Traditionally, school buses have been owned, maintained, and operated by school districts themselves, but with budget cuts across the board and fewer students relying on school transportation, many districts have found their transportation budgets dwindling. That made administrators particularly hesitant to buy electric school buses, even with lower lifetime costs than their diesel counterparts.
Some companies, like Highland, take a different approach, providing EVaaS so that schools are not burdened with the upfront cost of purchasing these vehicles. However, few school administrators are aware of these alternative options for incorporating electric school buses into their school fleets. That’s where a pre-approval process for vendors, like that provided by SB 1246, would help both school administrators and businesses.
Having passed the Arizona Senate unanimously not once, but twice, SB 1246 is a rare example of bipartisanship amid a contentious legislative session. Following its initial passage by the Senate, SB 1246 received a vote of 40-17 in the House of Representatives with a technical amendment. The bill notably garnered strong support from both sides of the aisle, including educators like Rep. Michelle Udall (R-Mesa) and bill sponsor Sen. Boyer, and clean energy champions Rep. Andres Cano (D-Tucson) and Sen. Victoria Steele (D-Tucson).
Besides saving Arizona schools time and money by making it easy to contract for electric school buses, the bill itself provides an example of how to unite those looking to cut red tape with those looking to cut tailpipe emissions. It also shows a way to advance bills supporting electric vehicles of all kinds, with no appropriations and minimal political controversy, in red and blue states alike. With the legislative session now wrapped up, SB 1246 proves a win for students, clean air, and bipartisan lawmaking in Arizona.
A team of 13 graduate students in Columbia University’s MPA in Environmental Science and Policy program worked to develop for AEE recommendations to accelerate the adoption of electric school buses in three fast-growing Sun Belt states – Arizona, Florida, and Texas. To download their report, click below.