Environmental Finance's Sustainable Debt Awards 2024

Sustainability bond of the year - US muni bond: Los Angeles Unified School District

In August 2023, Los Angeles Unified School District issued $384 million of sustainability bonds.

The District reports the issuance was received well by investors and expanded its base of ESG investors.

Proceeds will finance the acquisition of electric buses, electrification of bus yards to support a zero-emission bus fleet, and technology and security upgrades in one of the largest and most racially and economically diverse school districts in the US.

With proceeds set to finance the largest-ever order of electric school buses (180 buses) and electric utility upgrades at bus yards to accommodate electrification of the Los Angeles Unified School District's entire fleet of 1,200 buses by 2040, the District reported that "no other US school district has made such ambitious progress towards electrification".

The bus acquisitions are expected to reduce transportation greenhouse gas emissions by 780,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions (CO2e) a year and are projected to reduce annual maintenance costs by $10,000.

By financing cybersecurity and technology projects, proceeds also intend to advance the District's commitment to provide "safe and modernised learning environments for all students." Los Angeles Unified School District serves a high proportion of students and families that it states are economically disadvantaged and have relatively low levels of educational attainment. A majority of students identify as Latino/Hispanic, with the remaining percentage identifying as a minority or another ethnicity.

"Municipal debt at the local level that is targeted toward low-income communities and differentiated from universal funding across the state can be one of the most impactful and meaningful ways to promote equitable public education funding," commented Monica Reid, CEO of Kestrel.

One  Sustainable Debt Awards judge praised the "substantial impact" the large-scale ordering of electric buses and associated infrastructure development are expected to have in terms of reduced emissions and maintenance costs, adding that there will be an additional "positive impact of reduced particulate matter pollution near concentrations of children".

Los Angeles electric school buses. Source: Los Angeles Unified School District

Los Angeles Unified superintendent Alberto Carvalho added: "By investing in electrification upgrades to our electric school buses and bus yards, we're reducing our carbon footprint and ensuring cleaner air for our communities and a healthier future for all students. Together, we are leading the charge and creating a lasting impact for generations to come."

The certificates are one of three sustainability bond issuances from the District with a total of over $1.7 billion issued thus far. The District issued its first sustainability bond in November 2022.

"We review debt from school districts across the country," added Reid. "Los Angeles Unified School District is a notable leader and a model to follow. These certificates demonstrate the meaningful actions the District is taking to decarbonise all operations and provide equitable access to education in California."

Deal highlights

Issuer: Los Angeles Unified School District
Size: $384 million
Maturity: Various tranches from 01 October 2024 to 01 October 2038
Coupon: 5%
Use of proceeds: Access to essential services, Clean transportation
External reviewer: Kestrel
Lead managers: Bank of America, RBC
Credit rating: Moody's A2, Fitch A-