(Beyond Pesticides, June 11, 2008) The House of Representatives has passed legislation that will provide nearly $7 billion in grants to help K-12 schools go green. Entitled, “21st Century Green High-Performing Public School Facilities Act” (H.R. 3021), the bill, sponsored by Rep. Ben Chandler (D-KY), will help schools to become more energy efficient and healthier. There is a special emphasis on low-income schools where children are most at risk from unhealthy facilities and on schools that still suffer from the aftermath of hurricane Katrina.
The legislation passed by the House on June 4, will allow the Secretary of Education to distribute funds to K-12 school districts according to a need-based formula, to make them more energy efficient, healthy, and high performing. Funding can also be used for asbestos removal services, energy efficiency improvements, lead abatements, and technology upgrades.
The bill will also help school districts, which are struggling to make essential improvements, to create better school facilities and save significant amounts of energy and help to reduce greenhouse gases. Thirty-nine percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings, and each green and energy efficient school will lead to annual emission reductions of 585,000 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) — the principal greenhouse gas.
In order to promote energy efficiency and the use of renewable resources in schools, the bill:
- Calls for school districts to use funds to meet one of three widely recognized green building standards or equivalent state or local standards.’
- Requires school districts to publicly report the educational, energy and environmental benefits of projects, how they meet green building standards, and the percentage of funds used for projects at low-income and rural schools.
- Requires the Secretary of Education, in consultation with the Secretary of Energy and the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, to create a database of the best practices in school construction and to provide technical assistance to states and school districts regarding best practices. A green school costs less than two percent more than conventional schools – or about $3 per square foot — but provides financial benefits that are 20 times as large, typically utilizing 33 percent less energy and 32 percent less water than a traditionally designed school — enough savings to hire two additional full-time teachers.
Close to 60 million students spend up to 40 hours a week in facilities that are often unhealthy and a hindrance to their ability to learn. Many school environments are a cause of asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Improving the environment where children spend the majority of their time can significantly improve the health of students and increase student morale and confidence.
Along with energy efficiency and the removal of dangerous contaminants like lead and asbestos, green and healthy schools also need to protect children from the risks posed by pesticides through the adoption of school pest management policies and programs to create healthier learning environments. Pesticide exposure can adversely affect a child’s neurological, respiratory, immune, and endocrine system and have been shown to cause or exacerbate asthma symptoms. Beyond Pesticides believes that central to this effort to protect children’s health should be activities aimed at public education on pesticide hazards and efficacy of alternatives, and the continued development of model communities that serve as examples.
For more information on Healthy Schools, visit our Children & Schools program page.
Source: Earth Day Network Press Release