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Do Electric School Buses Have an Impact in the Classroom?

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Policy experts have studied the many social determinants of health for years. Most researchers agree that a person’s health is dependent on his or her social and physical environment. Many studies have examined how repeated exposure to air pollution increases the risk of developing asthma and pneumonia. School buses, which about 25 million children in the United States ride to school every morning, are a major source of this pollution. A recently published study suggests that these buses are negatively impacting not only students’ health but also their academic achievement.

In this 2019 study, policy researchers at Georgia State University examine the link between school bus diesel emissions and student outcomes. Some school districts in Georgia have retrofitted some or all of their school buses to dramatically reduce diesel emissions. The researchers collect information about when and where these retrofitting programs were implemented and then examine this data alongside measures of academic achievement and student health. Their academic metrics use data from statewide end-of-grade assessments, while their health metrics are based on scores from an aerobic capacity test administered in physical education classes.

The researchers’ analysis reveals two notable trends. First, districts that retrofitted more buses see a significant increase in respiratory health. This finding is especially strong among elementary-age students. Perhaps more surprisingly, those districts also demonstrate a significant increase in English test scores. This increase in test scores is so dramatic that the authors compare it to the impact of an experienced teacher ( another study found similar shifts in test scores when comparing the outcomes of first-year teachers and fifth-year teachers). In other words, these results suggest that retrofitting diesel school buses is not only beneficial for students’ health but also improve their academic outcomes.

However, researchers had to address the consideration that districts which chose to retrofit...