Smullen: Full Implementation of The Electric School Bus Mandate Would Cost Our School Districts Tremendously

A Legislative Column by Assemblyman Robert Smullen (R,C-Mohawk Valley and the Adirondacks).

There are 731 school districts throughout our state. Within these school districts are 2.3 million students that require 45,000 school buses to transport them to and from home safely everyday. Taking these numbers into account, if the Electric School Bus Mandate were to be fully implemented, this drastic switch to all-electric buses statewide would devastate our school districts, especially those in more rural areas. This mandate, along with the governor’s proposal to revoke the “hold harmless” provision from Foundation Aid for our schools, presents a serious financial challenge with little consideration of rural equity.

A survey conducted by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) in December of 2022 found that a new electric school bus costs anywhere from $325,000 to $410,000 for a traditional Type C school bus, which is approximately two to three times the cost of a diesel-powered school bus. Apart from upgrading to all-electric buses, there is also the additional cost of installing charging stations for the electric buses within the school districts. The cost of these stations can range anywhere from $5,000 to $100,000 per charger, with varying levels and lengths of charge.

While there is an alternative option to convert current diesel-powered buses to electric rather than purchasing new all-electric buses, there are still financial and logistical issues with this. Buses that undergo this conversion are known as “repowered” buses and have purchase prices of approximately $50,000 to $100,000, similar to traditional diesel-powered school buses. Given that there are so few repowered buses actually in service at this time, however, this is an unrealistic option for most school districts to pursue.

While the cost of complying with this mandate will vary by district, we know it will create a significant imposition on state and local property taxpayers. In November of 2022, the Empire Center concluded that the full transition for all school bus fleets to all-electric statewide will cost between $8 and $15 billion more than the cost of replacing retiring school buses with new diesel-powered buses. Meanwhile, less than $800 million is projected to be available in state and federal financial incentives (outside of traditional state school transportation aid) to help offset the incremental costs of these electric school buses. Beyond subsidizing part of the upfront cost for electric school buses and related charging infrastructure, these incentives do nothing to help school districts with other serious challenges posed by electric buses including unproven battery reliability and future training costs for bus mechanics and technicians.

These supposed “incentives” are simply not enough to offset the monumental costs the Electric School Bus Mandate will impose on our school districts statewide if it is fully implemented. The proposal to revoke the hold harmless provision from foundation aid is taking things too far—these mandates from the governor being imposed on our vulnerable school districts need to end.

I sincerely hope the governor will hear the concerns of state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle as well as concerned teachers and frustrated parents. Full implementation of the Electric School Bus Mandate will leave financial devastation in its wake and severely strain school district budgets that are already challenged by inflation and the impending expiration of extraordinary Federal funding. It is critical we consider the cost versus the benefit of these buses, and it is important we are transparent with taxpayers. Before it is too late, we need to reconsider this decision. Otherwise, schools should just say no to the Electric School Bus Mandate.