This live event occurred on October 1, 2021 as part of Generation180’s event series celebrating National Drive Electric Week.
Half a million school buses are in use in the United States, most of them running on diesel. For the sake of the 20 million children who ride the bus each day, school buses need to be at the forefront of transportation electrification. In this event, we heard directly from those who are advocating to make the switch:
Tish Tablan: Hello, everyone, my name is Tish Tablan. I’m a program director at Generation180, and I’m excited to be your event host today. We’re glad to have you join us today for National Drive Electric Week. Generation180 has been hosting an event each day of this week. And I’m honored to get to wrap up the series with today’s topic: Electric school buses, communities in the driver’s seat. Each day, 25 million students ride school buses, which are mostly loud, polluting diesel buses that are harmful to the health of children and communities. Parents, students and community members are leading the charge to electrify the school buses. And today we’ll get to hear from two of those community leaders who are sparking change in Phoenix, Arizona, which is known for having some of the worst air pollution in the country. And in Miami, Florida, which houses the fourth largest school district in the country. So we’re glad to have you with us today. So you can join us and hear their stories.
Before we get started, I will share a few reminders. All attendees are already muted with video turned off. If you have any questions, we will answer them at the end. But please put your questions in the Q&A box instead of the chat, and we will have a recording available after the session and you’ll be receiving an email with a link. So let’s get started. Next slide, please.
So today’s event is brought to you by 3 non-profit organizations working together on the electrification of school buses, Generation180 works to inspire and equip people to take clean energy action in their homes and communities. We focus on helping school districts access the benefits of clean energy technologies such as solar and electric buses. We empower school community leaders to be champions for clean energy and support other school districts to make the switch. Our partner, World Resources Institute, is a global research organization that develops practical solutions that improve people’s lives and protect nature. We have with us today WRIs director of the Electric School Bus Initiative, which aims to make healthier and more equitable electric mobility the new normal for an entire generation by electrifying the entire US fleet of 480,000 school buses by 2030. It’s an ambitious vision. CHISPA envisions an inclusive and reflective democracy where the Latinx community is rights to clean air and water. Healthy neighborhoods and a safe climate are well protected for generations to come, and we’ll be hearing more today from our panelists about the success of their Clean Rides for Healthy Ninos campaign in Arizona. So thank you to my colleagues at Generation180, WRI, and CHISPA for your support and putting together a fantastic event today. Next slide.
I now have the pleasure of introducing our amazing speakers today. Sue Gander, the director of the electric school bus initiative at WRI, will be playing a dual role of both presenter and co-host today. So prior to WRI, she was the managing director of policy for the electrification coalition, where she worked to accelerate the adoption of EVs at scale. So these previous work also includes directing the energy infrastructure and environment division at the National Governors Association and serving at the US EPA center for clean air policy. Sue is also the founder and chair of the Women of electric vehicles DC chapter. So it’s my pleasure to hand it over to Sue now, who will introduce our other two panelists?
The ‘Going Electric’ pledge:
“I want to help accelerate the transition to 100% clean energy. I pledge to make the next vehicle I purchase an electric car.”
Sue Gander: Great thank you so much, Tish. It’s great to be with all of you to help celebrate National Drive Electric Week, and we’re looking forward to the day where every week, every day when we drive, we’re driving electric. And school buses are a really important part of driving electric in, particularly because kids can’t drive. So we need to make sure that what they ride in is as safe as healthy as possible and really thrilled to introduce you to the two folks on the ground that are helping make this happen. Amazing leaders in this space. So we’re going to hear from both Masavi Perea today, as well as Michelle Drucker. Let me just say a little bit about them. Normally, I don’t give a full bio of speakers, but they are both such amazing people. I really think you’ll appreciate what they have to say, even more by getting to know them a little bit.
So Masavi Perea is the organizing director for CHISPA Arizona. For the last five years, he’s been building coalitions across Arizona. It’s a program of the League of Conservation Voters. It’s growing Latinx voices, political power and civic engagement for a cleaner future in Arizona. He helped launch the Clean Buses for Healthy Nino’s campaign in Arizona, and as Tish mentioned, it’s a state with really poor air quality. It’s the fifth-worst air pollution in the country. Before this role, Masavi was an organizer with the roofers union and a painters union. And in those roles as a labor rights activist, he helped establish a Workers’ Center in Phoenix in the Phoenix area. He’s originally from Chihuahua Mexico, which if folks know it’s the land of the indigenous Murray people and he’s been involved in immigrants rights movements from early on. Really important personal statement here. Masavi believes that working together with those who have been in the front lines and organizing our communities from the base are the most effective ways to positively impact individuals, families, neighborhoods, communities and our Mother Earth. And you’ll get to hear him say more of that for himself, but really delighted to hear from him and hear about the work going on in Arizona. And, you know, just really excited about the work that CHISPA has been doing in this area.
We’re also going to hear from Michelle Drucker. She’s a PTSA leader with the miami-dade County Public schools, and I’ve gotten to know Michelle through her work with DuVernay in advancing their efforts there. She serves as the vice chair for the 100% clean energy task force at the miami-dade County Public schools. It’s the fourth largest school district in the country, so again, a really large area that’s going to have a lot of impact overall, I guess. In her day job, she serves as assistant Chief Counsel for the Department of Homeland security, where she’s worked for over 2 decades, and she found her passion for sustainability. She’s been recognized for sustainability efforts within that department. And has turned her vision there and her passion there to working towards sustainability at her children’s school. So she’s a PTSA leader at the mass Academy High School, and she launched the green champions program for students and parents, and they’re working towards making the school a net zero energy and net zero waste school. Their advocacy has spread across the city and led to the district passing an ambitious resolution, committing to 100% clean energy by 2030. So really inspiring leaders, and I think they demonstrate how small efforts lead to larger efforts lead to a movement, and we want to see that movement succeed across the country. So excited to have them with us. We’re going to get into a little bit of a panel discussion with them and then have some time for Q&A.
But I’m going to start off with just a quick set of slides to kind of level set everyone on where are we with the electrification of the school bus fleet so we can kind of get that out of the way. So thank you for teeing up those slides here. So why? Why do we care about electrifying the school bus fleet? We heard about the die, very ambitious goal, and one reason is that we can the technologies here today. We’re already meeting the needs of students and school districts. !invisible!, through buses that are being deployed across the country, but it’s also a matter of we can’t not do this if we want to address the need to decarbonize the transportation sector, also improve air quality health outcomes, provide resiliency opportunities, integrate renewable support economic development in an industry that’s very US focus. This is our answer here and we have the opportunity to do it. So we’re excited to move quickly with a sense of urgency that entails. The next thing I really want to lean in on is the focus on equity at debris. We’re sending our work on equity. And we encourage others to think about this as well. We know that kids everywhere are being exposed to pollution. That’s affecting their health and their cognitive abilities. But we also know that kids from disadvantaged communities and communities of color are more likely to ride the bus. And and, you know, therefore or are more exposed to these damaging impacts than their counterparts. And those same kids also face underlying conditions that affect their ability to learn and to thrive. So we’re sending X-ray to help ensure that the benefits of electric school buses are attainable and accessible to those that are facing the greatest challenges. And by doing that, we’re creating benefits for everyone. So electric school buses, there are great technology, they have multiple benefits, they’re here today. What’s standing in the way? There’s a number of challenges out there. We know that there are higher costs up front. The current price tag is approximately three times that of a diesel bus. We need to work on getting that lower and making them more accessible. We know that infrastructure development takes time, takes money. We need to have the interconnections and the availability for the buses to be able to charge up. We know this is a new technology on. Most school districts are not familiar with it. So we need to make them comfortable, help them get comfortable and have them share out their experiences. We know also that there’s a number of technology myths that persist. One of the largest ones that we continually hear about is that school buses don’t have the range to meet the needs of school districts. But what we’ve seen in the data has shown is that the current buses fulfill the needs of about 90% of the routes that are out there in terms of the ability to travel long distances. So getting information about those myths and demystifying this technology is really critical. And we also need to scale quickly if we really want to address the urgency of air quality and the urgency of climate change. And that’s going to take a lot of effort to move to that move to that point of where we want to be in 2030. Overall, these challenges do impact disadvantaged communities disproportionately. So again, it circles back to the opportunity and the need to focus on equitable solutions. So where are we now? We’re just getting started. We’re kind of out of the depot, but we have a ways to go to reach what we hope is a tipping point for electric school buses in the next five years. So we have about 100 electric school buses that have been procured, delivered or an operation in the US out of that fleet of 480,000. So it’s less than 1% If you’re kind of doing the math at home. But we also know that there’s at least one electric school bus in 33 states, so we’re showing that it works. We’re showing that there’s demand and there’s interest across the country. They are concentrated in more of a handful of school districts. Of the 13,000 school districts that are out there, about 300 of them have 2% of all the, Ah, there’s 2% of those have the electric school buses. So, you know, that’s a relatively small number. There they are in areas that are most vulnerable. And so that’s good to see that there’s a connection there, and they’re largely in suburban areas, but kind of spread across the kind of towns and rural areas. So again, we’re seeing that there’s, you know, there’s interest, there’s demand and there’s applicability across all sorts of geographies as well. So what’s on the horizon? One of the big topics going on is the funding that is, we hope, going to be available. I know it’s, you know, up and down on an hourly and a daily basis at the federal level. But we’re pleased that the infrastructure investment and Jobs Act has included two funding streams to support electric school buses. One is a $2.5 billion pot over five years for zero emission buses only, and one is another one that includes also low emission school buses. And of course, we’re hopeful that most of that goes towards zero emission buses. There’s also a current program that just got released yesterday that I want to flag for folks. It’s under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. There’s a $7 million pot coming out through EPA to fund electric school buses only, and it’s targeted towards underserved communities with air quality and health challenges. So really encourage folks to look into that. The deadline is in November to get those applications in. It’s a pretty easy as we understand application, it’s a two page application, so we really encourage people to look at that. It’s a limited number of buses. It’s going to be about, you know, maybe in a couple of dozens of buses, but it’s a $300,000 opportunity per bus. And then, of course, there’s also opportunities for additional allocations of VW settlement funds. There’s utility programs for vehicles and infrastructure and a host of state and federal regulatory efforts. So there’s a lot of action happening at all levels of policy making, and that’s a great platform for the community action that’s happening and that we’re going to hear about from our two panelists. So turn it back over to you, Tish, to lead us into that discussion.
TT: Great, thank you so much, sue, for setting up the landscape of where we are in the country with advancing electric school buses and sharing some resources we should know about. So it sounds like we have a long way to go with a number of buses we have on the road. So I hope this gives our audience a real sense of just how ahead of the curve, our two panelists are here today and working with their communities. They are true leaders and I’m excited to dive in and have them tell us more about their campaigns. So Masavi, can you turn your video back on, please? And michelle? Michelle, why don’t we start with you? It would be great if you can just give us an overview of your community’s electric school bus campaign. Just describe the school district’s commitments and the progress and the implementation that’s been achieved. And then also circle back to how did it get started. You know, I think this is a great story to tell, and we’d love to hear it.
Michelle Drucker: OK, thank you. And I am a little late to get here because we were just finishing up 100% clean energy task force meeting where we talked about those funds that you mentioned as well, too. So and that really all got started because of an initiative within one school. We have a program at a Marine Stewardship and stem theme school in Miami called mast academy, and we were seeking Florida Department of Florida Department of Environmental Protection green Apple school status. And one of the recommendations is a no idling campaign. And we have a covered loading zone and the emissions were quite bad. So the student went out. She measured the emissions. She was shocked to see that the emissions were 10 times higher than the EPA’S recommended, I guess 500 parts per million just for CO2. And it was a simple little syringe full. It wasn’t even sophisticated equipment, and she won a statewide science fair competition. Based on that, she brought the data to her school board member. At this time, we were learning about the Volkswagen settlement funds and we showed up at a school board meeting and Holly presented her information. I mean, it was just three minutes. That’s all you get to speak, and we said, hey, please, let’s pursue this funding. The air quality is a big problem at our school with the buses and the first go around, there was a lot of resistance. We’re really not interested, but we just kept coming back. And we just applied that pressure because how can you say no to free? And it is hard when you’re dealing with old habits and inertia and things like that. And you have a bus, there’s a bus driver shortage. I mean, it feels a little bit tone deaf, I guess, to say, hey, we want electric buses when they can’t even get drivers, but it’s been well received and we actually showed up a second time we had the bus drivers union also show up. The second time to make sure they did apply for these funds, and they said, we really want this as well for our drivers because Lifetime drivers get COPD and terrible lung conditions. And the other benefit of these buses is they’re quiet. So we brought an electric bus down to Miami to really just put that final nail in to make sure that they did apply for this money. So miami-dade schools, not every district apply, but miami-dade schools applied for 50 buses. They’re getting $11.6 million over a four years. It’ll be 10 buses, 10, 15, 15 out of a fleet of 1,200. So we are looking to scale up the electrification faster because our kids are very motivated to reduce emissions by 50% by 2030, as urged by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on climate change. So that really motivates our students and our families, and that’s how we ended up with in front of you guys today. So thank you for wanting to hear about our story.
TT: Yeah, Michelle, that’s so exciting to hear about the students start the spark to this campaign and really having students be the ones to speak up and measure emissions in your own kind of parking area where the emissions are just collecting underneath that canopy. And I love that you got bus driver voices included as well, but they want to advocate for their own health. And in case you missed that, Michelle was mentioning she was late because her job, her volunteer had as an advocate never ends. She was just coming from her 100% clean energy task force meeting where they were talking about this. So it truly gives you a sense of how dedicated they are to this. This is I have they’re wearing all the time, Masavi. I’d love to hear your story as well. If you can give us an overview of how your campaign got started and where you are and what kind of progress you’ve made with electric school buses in the Phoenix area.
Masavi Perea: Yes, absolutely. Thank you. Good morning and good afternoon, everyone. Alex is nice to hear from you. You know, I’m very excited because of this conversation, because when we started almost five years ago, you know, we didn’t know how to start. We were connecting environmental justice with our community. And then we learn about the bushwhacking sentiment and we saw that as an opportunity. So after many conversations with the community, you know, we kind of agree that as they reported before, right in Phoenix, Maricopa county, the air quality it is, it is horrible. So we were like, OK, how can we work in this? So and then we say, OK, let’s start with the youngest. Let’s start with the most vulnerable community, which are the kids. So that’s when we start looking for options, and that’s when we start that clean buses for healthy meals. And it was a lot of conversations with community with parents, but also very interesting because when we were talking with electoral officials, they were like, OK, that’s a good idea. And then when we were talking with administrators a little bit, when Michelle said they were like, no, we have many other priorities, right? So for me, like this conversation this week, this is kind of like a dream because four or five years ago, we never thought that this could be possible. You know, actually, the background picture that I have here is that when I met the first electric bus and I have my two kids there, right? This one of the reasons why I’m doing this too, right? But I mean, they were very excited because they were like that. I don’t think that that ever that’s going to happen to have electric bus, you know, but now it’s a reality. So, so we did a study with many conversations like so was one issue that in Maricopa is affecting our community. The latinx community or Niños or kids is asthma in. There are rates in Maricopa County that are in some places and some school districts. We have up to 40% of kids are affected by asthma. And of course, those kids are brown and black. Right so that was an excuse to continue organizing. And now we are very happy, right? As the report bus at the beginning of this conversation, right? There are some electric buses around. And in Arizona, we have two electric buses running right now and then we have more coming up. And the good news is that our other school district there start calling us like, hey, how can we work together? You know, after four years of knocking doors that no one was listening of, you know, being on all these very interesting school district meetings, right? But the most important to have parents like buying the idea and fighting for environmental justice.
SG: I just wanted to actually pick up on that a little bit. Masavi, and, you know, through your experience and in, you know, just so glad that you kept up the fight, right to be able to be here when hopefully we’re on the precipice of getting additional funding that you and others can use? Do you have any advice for the parents, the advocates that are out there listening to this? What can they do if they want to get something started in their community or want to help support the movement that might be started in a community just in any kind of tidbits or advice you want to offer?
MP: So that’s a very good question. Thank you for that. Well, the base is to start a conversation with the community, right? Our community is very noticeable. You know, we are very resilient, you know, but also we are very open to the change. We are very open to the challenge, right? So to have that conversation with the community, you know, and ask them, like, how do you think that we can get better? How how do you think that we can solve these issues? Right so participation, engagement and be very open? You know, I remember like a couple, a couple of moms, they used to ask me, hey, we can just put like a solar panel, one of these buses, and then it’s going to be electric. And I’m like, whoa, I love that it will be that easy. You know, so has to be like a process of education and also something very interesting. So as we know, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, right? There are many organizations who are already working and they have a lot of information. So we have to bring also the experts, right, because we choose Verizon, right? Let’s say that we are experts in community, right, engaging in community, but we are not experts in anything and in technology, but the technology is out there. So I think the eye opening the aha moments that we have us as an organization parents, but also elected officials and administrators, that was amazing to see like that all these technologies are already available, right? And of course, right. One of the conflicts at the beginning was a lack of resources. Right but I mean, also what we learned later is that the schools, they are going to be saving money. And most important, the health sector is going to save a lot of money too, right? Because our kids are going to be more healthy. And that is also something that pushes. I don’t know if the rest of the community right, but on the Latino community, when you start talking about your kids, you know, parents like, OK, now I’m listening, you know, and that was I think that was a very important moment in your campaign, and that’s something that I will recommend, right? Let’s talk about their kids are present and future kids.
SG: Yeah well, Michelle, I’m wondering maybe if you can add on to that with your experience and your advice to other parents, other students and folks that want to support them.
MD: So I can tell you that, honestly, following Holly’s model and she it was maybe a $10 syringe with a little tube and she measured emissions and go to your school board members, show up at your school board. There is so much data. Test scores have been shown to go up. There’s actually a Wall Street Journal article that they said poor English because they are measuring about almost an 8% improvement in English scores. Also, the buses are quieter and I think things like bullying and if a child’s in distress, you can hear the kids on the bus. I think it just creates a calmer experience for the children. They brought a bus down and the kids rode it and they loved it. The drivers love it. It’s just a win-win all around, and I would just go, talk to your school board member, say, hey, they’re doing this in Miami. There’s money out there. Why can’t we do this? What do you need from us to move this forward? One other thing we reached out to because we’re a STEM school and it’s in it, even though it’s a magnet, it’s a pretty affluent student population. We did reach out to the NAACP and a lot of their drivers. You know, a lot of these blue collar jobs are from that community. So it really resonated with them and getting that, getting that, that equity piece in there, it just makes the messaging. So much more palatable than, you know, kids that privileged kids saying, I want an electric bus. It just comes more powerfully when you include the whole community. And that wasn’t hard for us to do because there is an equity inclusion part with NAACP as well as you’ve got the CHISPA program as well. So everybody wants this. It’s just a matter of showing them that the political will is out there.
TT: I love that. That’s a great point, Michelle. I mean, really, this is a bunch of school buses benefit everyone. I think that’s such a compelling reason to transition to electric buses. And, you know, miami-dade County Public schools in particular, it’s the fourth largest school district in the country, with over 350,000 students. And you’re part of this big metropolitan area, you know, kind of tapping into what you’re saying about reaching out to other people and other partners. Can you talk a little bit more about how do you transform such a large district? There may be other folks and big districts out there, though, like how do I even start touching this? And it seem daunting, so you can add on to like, how do you start getting by? You know, you started with one student in a STEM Academy in your district, and it seems like it’s grown well beyond that. So how did you get from the one student and a couple of parents phase to a big district commitment, going 100% clean energy?
MD: You just keep showing up. Just be persistent. We live, we live here and down in Florida. We have the Everglades and the mother of the Everglades is a Marjory Stoneman Douglas. And she used to say, you know, be persistent when it counts. Just be a nuisance. Keep showing up. You know, pick your battles, don’t be in their face. But if you just keep showing up, it’s such a no brainer that someone is going to finally get traction. We did get news coverage as well. And we had a lot of kids that were interested. There’s just there is a lot of interest in there. You just need to ask the kids if we’ll show up to a school board meeting and I think you’ll get a lot of response.
SG: With that, so Masavi, I’m wondering if you can circle back or we can circle back a little bit to what you were seeing in your community and you mentioned the asthma rates, the high, high pollution. Is there anything that jumps to your mind in terms of specific stories that you heard or when you were talking with parents, you know how, how they kind of connected with you on that point? You know, just love to kind of bring it to life a little bit.
MP: Sure I think something very important about environmental justice is that this field is very intersectional, right? So and there is a question here, right, about workers and organizers and how not to burnout, because at the beginning it was a very hard campaign like how we are going to start talking about that no one else talked before, right? Like like in. Right so like in Maricopa county, right? Like the movements were for immigration movement. Stop police brutality, jobs for that right? So how to bring this new field into this conversation? So I think that that was very important. But again, going back to the intersection, all right. I think to me by connecting with the health sector, right, that was very important. There is a one hospital in Phoenix, the Children’s Hospital. They have what they call asthma mobile, right? And they focus on and on, on areas where the Latino and Black community lives, right? And talking with these people that they are doing their job, their amazing job. They told me there were some schools that the kids have the rate on asthma. It was all the way to 80 percent, you know, so I was like, 10. Does you know so so I have to learn a little bit more like understanding of asthma and all that else, you know? So with that, I think we were able to put a sense of urgency into this, right? I love Michele story about what is happening in Florida, right? But I think something that we are very proud in Arizona, right? And this is with no competition or anything right? But we focus on the most. Well, details on the most vulnerable communities, right, like in our community, like with so Kai Wright and Phoenix union, right, those two districts, they are like probably 95% of brown and black kids, right? And we were able to accomplish that because we create a momentum, but also because the most important we create a sense of urgency. You know, when a lot of people is talking about climate change, right, they put a sense of urgency, but they put it like out there. If we talk about environmental justice, that our kids are getting sick and sicker every day, I think that’s when, when, when we push the needle, we, you know, and we put also fire into the people that need to do the work.
TT: Yeah I’m so glad that she was able to kind of capture this need and concern in the community. 80% asthma rate is shocking, and I’m trying to envision what you’re calling an asthma mobile like. Is that like a cart or something that drives around with just because the asthma rates are so high? That’s amazing. You know, this is such a, you know, important work. And Michelle and Masavi, it seems like it’s very personal for you to be able to dedicate so much time to this. Michelle, can I throw it to you? Like, do you have something that’s personally driving you to be part of this campaign or what kind of personally motivating for you about this work?
MD: Sure so I’m a lifelong Floridian, I’m a career public servant, I actually work for Homeland Security and I and I’m a mother of three, and I believe the biggest threat to the Homeland absolutely is this climate crisis. You know, I’ve seen I work on the Miami river and I can see the river rising year by year, and I feel I shouldn’t be able to observe this geological phenomenon with the naked eye. And 50 years, I’m 50 two, so I find it the place where I grew up. In Martin county, it’s the Indian River Lagoon. It has now a toxic green algae blooms that’s killing manatees. People’s pets are dying. I mean, these are the waterways that I enjoyed as a child. I want my children to have those experiences. They have terrible sargassum seaweed blooms. Now here down in Miami. I mean, just the environmental degradation is so fast and so frightening. And I think I had that aha moment actually with my agency, we created a Green Team. And there is a sustainability plan at the federal level. And that’s when I understood, oh, these are the most important things that we should be doing to reduce emissions because there’s so much alarmism, but not a lot of action items that people understand they can be involved in. So I just this one little anecdote. I remember listening to this recommendation to buy loose tea instead of tea bags to reduce your waste. And I thought, I don’t think tea bags are causing like the Arctic shelf to melt. I think we got to you got to find the things that are most important. So car emissions, actually, food waste is a huge one. Food waste and plant based diet. I didn’t know these things and you start learning and it’s scary. I know, 2021, 30 is around the corner that’s cut emissions 50% or it’s irreversible. That creates a sense of urgency and that I’m seeing it every day and. So, yeah, it’s a little bit my family is like, can we go a day without talking about climate change, mom? So it cuts both ways.
TT: Yes, I hear you. Yeah, that’s kind of amazing that you can sort of see climate change happening in real time out your window. That’s incredible. Masavi, how about you? Do you have kind of something personally motivating you to keep you going in this work?
MP: Well, I mean, absolutely right. And that’s why I choose this picture, right? Because when I showed my kids the electric bus, they were like, oh, so this is what you are talking about, you know, this is what. And then and then they are people that probably we are not going to see these buses in our timeline, but they have right and also right. I mean, other than I’m a father, I’m an uncle. You know, I’m a neighbor. You know, I’m going to be very soon, grandfather, you know, so. So I’m excited, right? For for all these changes. But I absolutely my family and my community, you know, try me to do my best and to make a change. And also, right, like the indigenous communities philosophy, they say that we need to leave this world better for the next generation. So if we are not, you know, if we don’t do that, we are not doing our job, we are not doing our responsibility.
SG: Yeah so you all have been amazingly successful, you know, because of all the hard work and the persistence and the great stories. Just if I was just wondering if there’s one or two things that jump out to you as like a particular barrier that you faced when you were, you know, pushing on the local school districts or facing, you know, resistance because we know this wasn’t just like, hey, you know, tell the story and everybody stands in line and and lines up to help. So is there a barrier or two that you want to speak to and kind of how, you know, take a step by step? Like, how did you how did you overcome that? Because we, you know, we talked about funding or infrastructure, you know, just the technology barriers, just anything that jumps out at you. And I don’t know Michelle, you want to go first. We’ll give Masavi a break and then we’ll go back to Masavi.
MD: I think you have to be a reliable source of information if you’re asking for things, so you do need to inform yourself on what resources are out there. You have to kind of know what’s happening with the buses at your school and how long, you know, maybe how long they’re idling or what kind of hazard is out there. I mean, just to school boards here from demanding parents all the time. And I think if you highlight like, OK, here’s a problem, but there’s a solution and we want to help you get to the solution. We want to make you guys the hero of the story. Not, not necessarily. They don’t want the parent to be a hero of the story. So you’ve got to really appeal. It is political relationship building is super important. You’ve got to be respectful, and you have to come with answers. So I think that that’s part of it. And there are answers out there like WRI has a great resource. And so I would just say, you know, educate yourself and then be persistent, be polite. And it’ll happen. It just you have to keep showing up.
SG: Great, Masavi, any other thoughts?
MP: Absolutely, no. I think the resistance it was there and probably still there. You know, I mean, from all the angles, from all the angles these like since companies incorporation, there is no secret that there is. There are companies making millions on the diesel and all the stuff. You know, there is no secret. There is no secret that utility companies were at the beginning. Like probably this is not a good idea because it’s going to be done more work, you know? But I mean, with technology, is it? It looks like utility companies also are understanding like this is a win win, right? But also, you know, very interesting parents because parents, we trust in the school system. Right so so we thought, well, I mean, the schools, I’m pretty sure they are taking care of my kids, you know, and they are, you know, but they don’t have all the tools, they don’t have all the resources, you know? So I think also that was part of the conversation, right? So, you know, and in the community, you know, I think sometimes we do the approach in a little bit different, right? We we have been for God in for so many times, for so long, you know that our approach has been sometimes unapologetic. You know, it’s like calling us as it is, you know, and in a lot of people, we’re not very happy with me or we choose at the beginning, right? But now it’s very interesting. Now they are calling us back, like, hey, remember three years ago that you were talking about electric buses? Can we have a conversation? And I’m sure we will.
TT: That’s great, you turned it around on them, but first you were a nuisance to them and now you’re a resource, that’s great speaking of building on that success, I know in Maricopa County they already have a couple of buses on the road. Can you share some of the reactions you’ve gotten from parents, students, drivers, administrators? What’s been the experience now that you have a couple on the road? Did anything stand out to you?
MP: Yes, no. It was very nice to see the mayor of Phoenix, you know, in one of these inaugurations. It was very nice to see the excitement of the administrators of the school district because again, as you said, right at the beginning, we were like, Oh man, again, we are going to talk about this. We have too many things about to talk about in this school district meeting why you want to talk about buses, you know, so I think that and for kids who have been in our campaigns and parents, that that is possible, that we can make a change like right here right now. You know, if we organize well and if we, you know, if we bring all the community allies, you know, because some conversation that I used to have with the other community organizations, we’re like, yes, we need an immigration reform. We need to stop police brutality. We need better education. We need better help. But we need a better environment because if our kids are sick, we are not going to be able to work. We are not going to be able to learn, you know, we are not going to be able to do many things. You know, so so let’s work all together, you know, with patience and with respect, you know, acknowledging those who have been working on these issues like way before then us.
SG: Great, I actually love how you can act, you know, maybe what people might think of as a small thing, you know, the electric school bus to these sort of concentric circles, right? Because it’s the kids, it’s the learning, it’s the whole fabric of the community in a way not to put too much onto it, but, you know, really does have those connections. So maybe for each of you and Masavi, you can start off. What’s next on your campaign? Where do you hope to go in the next year, a couple of years? Just give us a sense of the direction for you all.
MP: Sure, well, in Tucson, Arizona, as I say, we are having conversations with the other school districts. We are thinking about options to bring more money, right, and also like to create coalitions. About about that and to bring like different levels of government and compromise and also on a national level, I’m very happy to see a national also very open in conversation with other states that there are no us so. So I think right now it’s going to be again to connect with, you know, like with all these organizations that are impro of a better environment. And yeah, that’s yeah, it’s great to see it happening. Michelle, what’s next on your end?
MD: getting through December of this year and making sure our task force report is tight and compelling and that our school board adopts our recommendations. But we did draft a somebody asked about the Sierra Club’s climate parents was the one who kind of helped us come up with this task force resolution. We did one as a PTA first and then we had webinars in the summer for school board members as they were running for election and said, hey, we want clean energy schools, we want buses. And they came and then sort of once you get them hooked in and they internalize it. And they make it part of their campaign, getting these board members on the record is the other thing that you need to do to make sure that you can close the loop on these things. We don’t have one electric bus yet here in Miami. We have a promise to get buses, but it’s not here yet. And until it’s here, I don’t feel our job is done. I think quality control matters. You’ve got to be successful before you can scale up. But I know for the County council, we’re hoping to elevate our resolution to the Florida PTA so that other school districts and PTA will consider adopting the same and getting their school boards on. Get on the bus as well.
TT: Awesome, thank you. So I think we’re just going to throw out one more question, and I’ll really open it to Sue, Masavi, and Michelle. You know, you both had amazing campaigns. I know Michelle, you’ve talked to me about what you’ve learned from other school districts, even in the Florida area. And I’ll just say, like, what have you learned from other school districts or other campaigns that are doing it that were helpful for you as you’re getting started or kind of or takeaways that you’ve seen in other places? And actually, I’ll start with Masavi.
MP: Sure, I think, something that we learn, right, we will learn from other school districts that they were already using the electric buses like in California. Right so we are by Arizona. We we compromise with all our school districts, with the school that we were working. We were working with Phoenix Union and car right and Roosevelt, right. And we pay the two. We pay for the transportation directors to take a trip to California. So they can see with their own eyes how they were working. So I think again, that was an eye opening. And again, we need to work in different levels. Elected officials, administrators and community. So we focus a lot on the administrators. So they can learn again what other entities were already doing. And after that, they were like, yeah, let’s do this. And since then, we have been working together.
TT: All right. How about you, Michelle? Any other campaigns?
MD: We got a lot of help actually from Sierra Club’s climate parents and drafting a resolution? And to be able to say, oh, well, well, actually, we also looked at other districts within our state. And when you’re the fourth largest district, but you’re not pursuing electric buses. Our superintendent is kind of inherently kind of competitive. So I think like leveraging that piece of it helped and being able to say, oh, Los Angeles has already done this, or California has already rolled out of 10 of these buses. And in fact, what was great is we actually talked to the drivers. I can’t remember the California district that’s almost already transitioned. That was huge. Like, that was wonderful. They had the mechanic, the drivers talk to our drivers and I think that kind of brought our campaign to the next level was to be able to provide assurances that this is a transition that you will be really happy with.
SG: I’ll maybe jump in there, I mean, again, these are the folks on the ground, but we’ve been talking to school districts across the country and hearing a lot of really similar stories. It’s interesting. I, I think maybe teeing off of both of what Masavi and Michelle said, what I wrote down in response here was first off, you know, we’re hearing Yes about a lot of challenges and questions, but also that it can be done. And the story that jumped to my mind was one of the representatives on the advisory council that we have at the World Resources Institute. For our work is Bill Rosso’s, who works at Stockton, California. And he has an amazing story of how he is in the midst of the pandemic, which we know was a very challenging time for the entire country and school school people involved in schooling. In particular, they were able to start their deployment of electric school buses within 11 months. In terms of, you know, yes, they had access to great funding available through California in particular. So fortunate to be there but working with the utility and working with the community involving the kids, just a great story that shows it can be done. You know, it’s not easy, but let’s not think it’s a tomorrow thing. It can be a today thing. Absolutely And then the importance of peer to peer stories, again, we know that that’s what’s really going to be useful and important for this to take hold, you know, just sort of like, you know, picturing, you know, kind of that pebble in the water that then kind of expands out and has those ripple effects. You know, it’s every time we hear a great story of a driver or a student or a fleet administrator or school board member that sees how this works and then can tell their peers, yeah, this, you know, this can be done and we can do it. You know, that has such a huge impact. So I’m really excited to see all of that happening as well.
TT: Yeah, thank you, sue, for sharing some of that, it looks like we just lost Michelle for a moment, but we’re going to go ahead and circle on circle up to the Q&A and we’ve got lots of great questions in the chat. So I’m going to actually put it back to you because one of the first questions is about technical assistance, as Michelle mentioned, you know, she had to really learn this herself. I know WRI is providing a lot of resources. So can you talk a bit about the technical assistance that WRI has to offer and other resources that are available?
SG: So well, I’ll start by saying there’s a lot of great folks that have done a lot of great work already. She’s been out there for a long time working on these issues, other organizations as well on the ground that have developed great, great resources. So definitely want to give shout outs to them as well. What we’re working towards is first off, helping with a cohort of school districts and really diving in deep with them, helping to develop a roadmap for their efforts. And miami-dade is one of those, but then scaling up to provide those resources in terms of the steps that need to be taken. And, you know, kind of each note along the way, how do you work with the different players? How do work with the community. And how do you move that forward? We’re going to be posting it’s more of an intake form for this because we’re getting tons of questions and we want to be able to have a systematic way for doing that. So encourage folks to check back on our website for that. And really, we’re at the early stages of working with different partners that are out there to develop those tools and those resources. One of the things that was in the slides was just the story about where are the school buses? So we’ve got a great map and a great database so people can learn like, oh, where are these happening? And we’re working on a number of case studies. So that folks can see how did this actually play out in Stockton, in white plains, in other places around the country so that we can learn from that? So I’m really looking forward to pushing those out and providing that. And ultimately, we need to get to scale and that’s through folks at the community level, you know, kind of helping each other as well because it’s, you know, as I said, 13,000 school districts and, you know, many times more that schools. So just really excited for that and for partners around the country that have been working on this for a long time.
TT: Yeah, thanks Sue. Yeah, it’s incredible what his vision is for us to scale quickly. And I’m so glad that your resource out there for community members who want to make this happen. Masavi there’s a question in the chat that I’d love to ask you. The question is: Has has your has CHISPA found any support from white allies, and do you have any advice for what white allies on how to support this work?
Yes, absolutely. That’s a great question, and the answer is Yes. We that we have CHISPA world. We work with committees or committees, and we create this what we call interface committee and mostly white people. And they have been an amazing partner. They help us on making phone calls and emails. I mean, there have been just fabulous and something also that I want to acknowledge about that and that I respect and that they gave us this space. You know, they are they were not here like telling us what to do. They were here like, OK, how can we support you? And we appreciate that a lot because, you know, they respect us and they help us like. And absolutely, I think the interfaith the community has been super helpful on that. Sending emails, letters, you know, attending our events. And I want to thank for that. And yes, this is a very right. I mean, everyone is welcome, right? I mean, if you know they are respectful, absolutely everyone is welcome. So I want to acknowledge that the interfaith community has been super helpful and mostly they were like, white allies?
TT: Yeah now you mentioned intersectionality before Masavi, and your campaign really lives and breathes it, so that’s amazing. Thank you for that answer. We have a couple of questions about financing. And I’ll pose that maybe to Masavi first of just how did you? Maybe you can explain how did your district afford the buses that you have? And then how did you get them to buy in to kind of how we’re going to purchase the next buses? So can you explain the purchasing part and maybe you, Sue, you’ll be able to kind of fill in. And like how other districts are doing it to you, but I’ll start with you, Masavi.
MP: Sure well, as I say, the way how we begin was sending the transportation director to California to see that. And then they were making the right questions to the right people. Right I’m just I’m a community organizer, right? So I didn’t know anything about that. So, so these people, they were asking those questions, right? And then later we connect them with a federal grant. Right and I think a different departments got connected the Maricopa air quality. They have like federal grants, you know, so so I think that has been again right connections because again, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There are organizations who are doing an amazing job on that. So I think which is connect the connection and then they did their part because something where it was like, I remember when a school district. Person who told me when that person just moved in, he she told me, Masavi, we are going to do this. I mean, we need to do a lot of research, but we are going to do it, you know, and she did it, you know? So that was an amazing experience. So connecting that and connecting agencies, right, that they have the money. Yeah, there’s money out there. You kind of have to find it. There’s the VW settlement funds is what’s funding a lot of buses around the country. I think there were there’s some local funds pitched in. I think there was a bond in the County was part of it, a paid for locally as well, in your case, Masavi? Yes again, that was going back to the intersectionality, right? The schools were or the district were like, OK, this is something that we want, but how can we do it, you know? And then they say, OK, let’s create a bond. And then our parents were very involved on the band and on the bond, you know, like asking other people knocking on doors like, hey, let’s support this bond. And you know, because again, right when we asked people to give money taxes like people normally like, no, we don’t want to raise taxes, but our community was like, no, this is good. This is for the common good. So, so our parents were very involved in that, too.
TT: I love that. Yeah, that’s I don’t hear about many other communities that have invested through bonds. And in that way to fund buses. That’s a great example. Sue I’m going to kick it to you. You know this better. What are some other ways you’re seeing schools can kind of overcome that cost difference?
SG: Yeah, no. Well, Masavi, you know, picked up a lot of them. It’s kind of got to turn over every stone and think about that. And that’s one of the things we’re also pushing for in the rollout of any federal program is to be able to stack those different resources. And you know, I think already mentioned some of the federal money that’s out there, the VW settlement money, certainly more and more funding coming through utility programs and making those accessible are kind of the bigger pots of money. And we’ve seen some interest within green banks that states are setting up. Connecticut green bank is one, but there’s a real opportunity there to again, it’s about leveraging it can be private or public capital to try to move forward on things. There’s some new models that are out there to approach this more through a leasing or kind of transportation as a service approach that a number of different companies are looking at. And certainly that’s an approach that could be done on the public side or the private side as well. When you look at the magnitude of investment that we need, it’s going to definitely be a combination of all those sources. And you know, I think it was Masavi that mentioned this is a real health issue. So, you know, one of the things we’re looking at and thinking about like, how do we tie this into that piece of funding? How do we look at resiliency aspects of school buses if there’s value there, you know, and it’s, you know, we need to work through the technology. And it’s not going to work everywhere. But you know, if there’s value there, what’s the value stream that can be applied to school buses? Because we, you know, it can meet so many different needs. So I think there’s a good base of both funding and financing that’s out there. And as we think about moving from where we are now and then moving to scale, this is where we really need to just amp those all up. And, you know, think about the opportunities there. We we had a great conversation with or have been looking at the Department of Energy’s loan office loan programs, and there’s two programs out there already or one program out there already that can benefit school buses. So how do we lean into that, that funding as well? So I think it’s a matter of just being intentional about there’s a suite of funding out there. A lot of it’s been used for clean energy and for other forms of electrification. How do we adapt that and make that something that school buses can use?
TT: Thank you so much for sharing all of that. I’m sure that is the number one question that people start with is we love this. It makes so much sense for clean air and clean transportation, but how do we pay for it? So thank you so much to sue and Masavi and Michelle for sharing your expertise and your stories with us today. That’s unfortunately, that’s all the time we have today. I feel like I could keep talking to all of you all day long, but we’re going to wrap up our webinar today. Thank you to our partners for helping us put on the event today. Thank you to all of you listening and for spending your valuable time with us.
So each registrant will receive an email with a link to the recording and the transcript of today’s events, you’ll actually also be able to find the video recording and the transcript on our website at generation180.org. So there will be a blog post for each of the events that we posted throughout national drive electric week from Monday through Friday. You can check it out on our website. I think we also had a couple more resources to share. We there are some great videos of students and community members in Arizona and in Miami that we wanted to share and ran out of time. I think we’re going to post it in the chat here as well, just so you all can link to it and learn more because there’s just more content about these great stories as well. So let’s see if we can pop those in the chat. OK, great, I think they’re in. But that’s it, thank you so much for joining us today and have a wonderful rest of your day and enjoy your weekend. Thanks again.
Flip the Script
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