The Biden administration has announced that it is launching a $500 million Department of Energy grant program aimed at making the nation's school facilities more energy efficient.
The Action Plan for Building Better School Infrastructure will award grants to school systems so they can carry out building improvements, such as energy-efficiency audits and building retrofits, HVAC and lighting upgrades, and clean energy installation.
"Energy efficiency improvements to HVAC systems, lighting, insulation, and other energy upgrades can not only protect the health of our children, but also unlock significant savings to go toward students and learning," the White House said in a news release.
Vice President Kamala Harris was scheduled to announce the plan at Neville Thomas Elementary in Washington, D.C.
As part of the effort, the Department of Education has proposed creation of an Office of Infrastructure and Sustainability. It would provide technical assistance and training to state and local education agencies on issues related to educational facility planning, design, financing, construction, improvement, operation, and maintenance, including green building design and operation practices.
"Students need school environments filled with safety, belonging, and health to learn and thrive," the White House says. "Yet many schools rely on outdated heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems that make classrooms less comfortable and may pose health risks to students and teachers exposed to contaminants or particles in the air that can trigger allergies or asthma attacks and potentially spread infectious diseases – including Covid-19. Dirty diesel buses pose additional health risks for students on board and the neighborhoods they travel through — and exhaust from idling buses can pollute the air around schools."
The White House statement noted that school districts throughout the nation have been plagued for many years with less than adequate facilities. But living through a pandemic in the last two years has made the need for safer, more healthful facilities even more evident.
"While teachers and education leaders have long raised concerns about the level of comfort and air quality in our classrooms, the pandemic has laid bare disparities in access to healthy facilities, including modern, efficient, and clean HVAC systems," the White House said. "Outdated, inefficient buildings also saddle underserved school districts with higher energy bills and generate significant greenhouse gas emissions, keeping them in a cycle of underfunding operations and overpaying maintenance costs."
Other federal agencies will be part of the Building Better School Infrastructure effort. The Environmental Protection Agency is releasing online resources to help school districts and other eligible recipients prepare for the $5 billion Clean School Bus Program; the first opportunity to receive funds for clean and electric buses is expected later this spring.
The Department of Transportation has provided state and local governments with new guidance to apply for $90 billion in available federal funding to support projects that help students safely walk and bike to school.
The Department of Agriculture will use its rural development loan and grant programs to support electric school bus acquisition, charging station infrastructure, energy-efficiency investments at schools, and broadband and distance learning in rural school districts – to accelerate the shift from dirty fuel sources toward school facilities and vehicles powered by clean electricity.