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Ithaca’s school district has federal funds to buy electric buses. The purchase depends on voters

The Ithaca City School District currently operates five electric school buses. The EPA recently awarded the district $800,000 to purchase four more. (Credit: ICSD)
Ithaca City School District
The Ithaca City School District currently operates five electric school buses. The EPA has awarded the district $800,000 to purchase four more.

The Ithaca City School District is getting a boost from the federal government to help pay for electric school buses. But it will only receive those funds once voters approve the purchase, according to the district and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA awarded the district $800,000 last month to purchase four new electric buses over two years. The funds can also cover the cost of charging infrastructure and related training.

The award is meant to help the district transition away from diesel-fueled buses, which emit air pollutants that pose health risks and contribute to climate change. But voters have yet to authorize the district’s spending on new buses.

The initial school district spending propositions all failed to pass last month, which included funding authorization for new vehicles under a proposition separate from the school district budget, called Proposition 2.

An amended school budget proposal heads to a vote on June 18. It includes an updated Proposition 2 that would authorize the district to buy two electric buses, two ultra-low propane buses with wheelchair-accessible lifts, and three passenger vehicles at a cost of $1.6 million — half of the initial proposal. Those funds would come from a capital savings fund that can only be used for bus purchases, according to the district.

The district says the cost of the electric buses would be covered by the EPA rebates.

“The district is only able to use the funds pending voter approval,” said a district spokesperson in an email. “We have up to two years to use the funds; if the proposition goes down, and we cannot get one passed in the future, we would not receive the funding.”

A spokesperson for the EPA said that districts can apply for electric school bus funding before a school budget vote, but the funds are only transferred once voters approve the spending.

The district currently has five electric buses in use, along with charging stations to keep them running. Officials say those buses have been able to run in all weather conditions without complication.

New York law mandates that all new school buses be zero-emission by 2027, and that all school buses in operation must be electric by 2035. Some school district officials and lawmakers have pushed back against the mandate, saying the timeline is too rushed.

Ithaca is one of nearly 50 communities across the state to receive funds from the EPA’s Clean School Bus Rebate program. It’s funded by the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, a cornerstone of President Biden’s investment in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.