TCEQ Urges Schools Districts to Apply for Clean Bus Grant

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BROWNSVILLE – In an aim to improve air quality across the state, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is pushing public and charter schools to apply for free grants to replace and retrofit their diesel school buses.

They’ve issued grants through the program multiple times since 2005 and are accepting applications right now. The agency tells CHANNEL 5 NEWS so far, no school district in the Rio Grande Valley has applied.

The improvements lower school bus emissions, but some school district officials say it’s more important than that; it’s healthier for the kids.

We visited Brownsville Independent School District, the biggest school district in the Valley. They tell us they’ve utilized the grant funding for the last five years.

“We transport about 17,000 to 18,000 students daily,” explained Eliud Ornelas, the administrator of Brownsville ISD’s transportation program.

With 230 school buses going to work every day and another 70 on standby, retrofitting the fleet to run cleaner could have been expensive for taxpayers living in the district.

“It’s a lot of money to invest on buses,” explained Ornelas.

But Brownsville ISD was able to retrofit 129 of them with the help TCEQ’s Clean School Bus Program Grant.

“The district and the taxpayers, they saved $1.7 million,” said Ornelas. “They’re cleaner and they don’t blow much smoke so the kids aren’t breathing it in.”

Ornelas says the school district began applying for the grant five years ago, spending $1.4 million in state grant money and $278,000 more in federal dollars.

That left the school district more money to use elsewhere. 

“Some schools do need the funding, in more educational classes,” said former student Miroslava Duquezne. 

With the money the district saved, Ornelas says they were able to buy an additional 100 clean-running buses.

The Texas Education Agency says more than 40 percent of the school buses in local fleets are more than 10 years old.

In the years since the vehicles were bought, the district says there have been advancements in engine technology that have helped reduce emissions from school buses, which helps reduce air pollution.

Eight other Valley school districts have applied for the grants in the past, including Edcouch-Elsa, San Benito, Harlingen and Rio Grande City. Ornelas says he hopes to see more doing it.

“Take advantage of it,” he said. “I believe the industry is going that way.”

TCEQ says in addition to retrofitting,  this is the first time they’ve offered school districts help to replace buses.

They say all public school districts and charter schools in Texas are eligible to apply for this grant.

Applications are due April 26, 2019. More information can be found here.

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