How a Movement Led by Moms is Fighting for Clean School Transportation

Guest blog post by our friends at Mothers Out Front

Mothers Out Front has brought a unique approach to tackling climate change since its founding over eight years ago. At the core of our work is pushing for a just transition away from fossil fuels to a clean energy economy that works for all and that promotes a healthy, livable future for our kids. Our members are mothers, grandmothers and other allies committed to making that future a reality through bold action on climate at the local, state and national level.

With teams in states around the country, and a new mobilization that focuses on building on-line actions, this organization has been winning important legislative victories at the local and state level that have real and lasting impact. One such win happened in early 2021 in Virginia.

In the U.S., school transportation systems hold the largest fleets of buses in the country. Twenty-four million school children ride 454,000 buses to school each day. Most of these buses (95% in 2018) are powered by diesel and therefore polluting and unhealthy for the children who ride them and the communities in which they travel. These buses emit 3,000 tons of cancer causing soot and 95,000 tons of smog causing compounds a year.

Fairfax County, Virginia has the second largest fleet of diesel school buses in the country. For the past couple of years, our moms in Virginia have been working on bringing electric school buses to local districts. In 2019 we had a big win in Fairfax County when the Mothers Out Front team there turned their attention to bringing electric school buses to that district. 

Using a lobbying model which had successfully brought solar to their schools, the moms set out to convince their school board to replace the fleet of school buses with electric models. The school board agreed and have committed to replacing all diesel buses with electric by 2030.

These moms connected with other Virginia members of Mothers Out Front to take this initiative to the state level. Working with a state representative who recognized the importance of moving away from diesel school buses because of the health impact on kids from the exhaust, they began to write state level legislation that would ensure that districts around the state would use safe, clean electric buses. Delegate Mark Keam understood how devastating diesel pollution can be because his own daughter has asthma. Children riding on diesel school buses can be exposed to as much as 5 to 15 times the level of air toxins outside, and childhood exposure to diesel soot emitted by school buses has been associated with reduced lung function and increased incidences of pneumonia. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has estimated that school bus diesel exposures in children pose as much as 23 to 46 times the cancer risk considered significant under federal guidelines.

Partnering with decision makers who both understand the challenges we face and are willing to fight for change is imperative for the success of our work at Mothers Out Front. In 2020, working with our Virginia moms, Delegate Keam wrote a state bill, VA-HB1140 Clean School Bus Grant Fund. Importantly, the bill prioritized funds for areas with high asthma rates, low air quality, and replacing the oldest most polluting buses first. The ultimate goal is to make clean buses available to all school districts in the state and transition all Virginia school buses by 2030.

Our moms worked hard to pass the bill. They lobbied at the state capital every Tuesday, spoke at lobbying day breakfasts, and met with as many legislators as possible to inform them about the bill and the imperative of moving to electric school buses. The bill passed in the subcommittee vote but died in appropriations because there was a concern about funding the new fleet.

In early 2021, an adapted bill was brought before the Virginia legislature again. This time, the authors made sure that the funding sources would start with federal or private money before any state money would go into the fund. This meant that the bill did not need to go through appropriations and this time it passed.

The next steps for our Virginia moms include lobbying their Federal legislators to earmark money that will go into the state fund. They will also meet with officials at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and inform them about the Virginia state fund. Our Virginia team members believe that the establishment of this fund makes their state an attractive option for federal school bus funds because they can guarantee that the money will be spent in a cost-efficient and equitable way.

We know we still have some work ahead of us to get money into the fund that will pay for school buses in Virginia. But moms do not give up, especially when it comes to our kids! Our moms are fighting for the children of Virginia and they will not rest until we have won. 

To learn more about Mothers Out Front please visit our website. Our Electric School Buses (ESB) work includes teams in California and New York and is ever growing. Please join us!

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