Governor Ducey unveils $38 million dollar plan for new school buses

Earlier this month, Governor Doug Ducey unveiled a $38 million plan to purchase more than 280 new school buses in low-income communities across the state over the next two years. The plan utilizes settlement funds from the Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust.

In January of 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Volkswagen for violations related to the Clean Air Act. The lawsuit resulted in a settlement agreement that allocates dollars in damages to Arizona for projects that will improve Arizona’s air quality. Governor Ducey’s plan for distributing the settlement dollars prioritizes updating school buses across the state.

“K-12 education remains the governor’s top priority,” said Tamara Skinner, research and press assistant for Governor Ducey. “These dollars will go a long way towards making sure Arizona students are safely delivered to school every day. Additionally, putting these dollars toward the purchase of new school buses will free up existing funding sources, allowing school districts to focus on other capital needs to benefit students.”

The plan allocates dollars to districts in which at least 60 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced lunch, and to the Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind. School buses that are at least 15 years old and have more than 100,000 miles will be replaced under the plan. Approximately 80 percent of the new school buses will go to school districts in counties at risk of violating federal air quality standards.

“We’re inventorying our buses against the criteria, and as long as our bus fleet qualifies, we will apply,” said Craig Pletenik, Phoenix Union High School District communications director. “School buses are expensive. I think it’s a great idea that the Governor is putting more funding into schools. It would be a great boost for the district.”

The governor’s plan is set for review and approval by the trustee of the lawsuit settlement. If approved, school districts could start applying for the funding in September and buying new buses by the end of the year.

Districts can replace up to 10 percent of their bus fleet under the plan.

In Santa Cruz County, Nogales Unified School District Assistant Superintendent Angel Canto expressed interest in the program.

“We are just learning about this plan to replace aging school buses,” she said. “We appreciate any opportunity to put more dollars into our classrooms by saving money on the maintenance of our aging bus fleet. We look forward to working with the Governor’s office to learn more details about the program.”

In order to be considered for new buses, school districts will need to apply through the Arizona School Facilities Board. With newer diesel and alternative fuel school buses on the road, the plan would help to improve the state’s air quality.

Lorna Romero

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