Investing in Public School Infrastructure Is a National Priority

August 26, 2021 | Written By:

Senator Durbin and other speakers discussed investing in school facilities as a matter of public health during an HSC Change for Good forum.

As Congress negotiates a $1 trillion infrastructure package, Healthy Schools Campaign has been bringing attention to the enormous infrastructure needs of public schools across the country, especially those in historically underinvested Black and Brown communities.

HSC recently co-hosted an event with the Center for Green Schools featuring U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and other special guests who discussed the problems with aging school facilities and the need to prioritize investment in school buildings and grounds.

Senator Durbin emphasized the multiple benefits that investment will bring for children, families, communities and the country as a whole. The special forum, the latest in HSC’s Change for Good series, also featured Josina Morita, a commissioner with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, who spoke about the benefits of investing in schoolyards and shared the impact of Space to Grow, Chicago’s green schoolyards program co-managed by HSC and Openlands.

They were joined by Rodney L. Williams, director of energy and sustainability at the Newark Board of Education, and Anisa Heming, director of the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council, who spoke about the need to upgrade school facilities and improve indoor air quality. Heming shared findings from “Preparation in the Pandemic,” a recent report on indoor air quality from the Center for Green Schools.

The pandemic has highlighted long-standing concerns about the disrepair of schools, the inequity that exists across our country, and the important role schools play in supporting student health. As Senator Durbin and other speakers stressed, it is impossible to talk about equity in education and health without addressing the critical need for school infrastructure investment.

While funding for clean school buses and walk-to-school programs were included in the infrastructure package the Senate passed earlier this month, funding for much-needed improvements to school facilities was not. A recent GAO report found 54 percent of school districts must replace or update major building systems, including plumbing and HVAC systems that affect indoor air quality.

Many schools also have outdoor spaces and schoolyards that are inadequate for safe play and use. The need, and the health consequences, are greater in high-poverty districts, especially those serving Black and Latinx children. In the coming weeks, it will become clear whether schools will indeed be included in the reconciliation bill. The Change for Good Forum helped bring attention to this key issue.

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