A Build It Back Better Stimulus is an essential opportunity to deliver a Green Stimulus for K-12 Schools. This stimulus would align directly with the Biden administration’s goals of rescuing schools from the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic while creating jobs, delivering racial equity, improving health outcomes, slashing carbon emissions, and improving school resilience to extreme weather all at the same time; and it would help the Biden administration target 40 percent of its climate funding to disadvantaged communities. The massive public investments called for here would yield economic, social, and climate benefits for decades to come.
We propose $1.16 trillion in new funding over ten years:
$250 billion over ten years for Climate Capital Facilities Grants to fund healthy, green, climate-friendly retrofits for the K-12 public school facilities in greatest need (including short-term measures to help schools reopen safely during the pandemic)
$250 billion over ten years for Resource Block Grants to fund expanded staff, social services, training, and professional development in public schools with the greatest need; this would include $100 million in Educational Equity Planning Grants to jumpstart the process of eliminating intra-region education inequities in school funding
$66 billion annually in Expanded Title I and IDEA Annual Funding to sustain operational support from the Resource Block Grants.
The Climate Capital Facilities Grants will create 350,000 jobs per year, over ten years in all jobs categories, including over 100,000 on-site construction and maintenance jobs per year, over ten years. Our estimate of projected place-based spending, based on our proposal’s equity criteria, finds that on-site jobs would be evenly distributed between red states and blue states (based on 2020 electoral college vote), with 51,100 going to blue states and 49,400 to red states.
The Climate Capital Facilities Grants would eliminate all carbon emissions from those schools. Once the retrofits are complete, they would deliver an annual saving of at least 29 million tons of CO2e, the equivalent of taking six million cars off the road.
The Resource Block Grants will fund well-resourced classrooms and school facilities across the country, supporting the creation of 336,000 new jobs in schools over ten years. In schools with the greatest need, these block grants can support hiring educators to lower teacher student ratios to 1:15 for K-8 schools and 1:20 for grade 9-12 schools. We will reach these ratios by hiring additional classroom teachers (a head and associate teacher for all pre-K–grade 3 classrooms) as well as learning specialists, including math and reading specialists and afterschool staff, for all pre-K–grade 12 classrooms. The expansion of the educator pipeline, along with resourcing development and operations to retain existing educators, will address the forecasted educator shortages.
FURTHER READINGS + SELECTED PRESS
Critical Components of a School District COVID Education Plan
By Akira Drake Rodriguez, Daniel Aldana Cohen, Billy Fleming, and Xan Lillehei
An already unequal school system, riven by inequalities of race, class, and gender, is under extraordinary stress from the worst pandemic and the worst economic meltdown in over a century. The local context of every school is unique. But core principles of social, economic, and health justice can be achieved across the country, if we structure federal policy with ambitious public policy measures and pursue core objectives driven by democratic values.
Throughout this memo, we urge the maximum caution about reopening schools in anything resembling a conventional form, given the gravity of the COVID crisis right now, which is exacerbated by incompetent federal leadership. And we view this crisis as a moment when we must fundamentally rethink education policy, along the lines of Mr. Bowman’s proposed New Deal for Education. We cannot afford to spread COVID through unwise education policies or entrench already cruel inequalities in the education system.
Only massive federal investments will ensure that all schools benefit from best practices, and just wealthier schools and school districts. Two of the main mechanisms that we propose to achieve this are COVID Education Block Grants and COVID Capital Facilities Grants. Indeed, while schools are closed, or partly closed, to students, professionals can take the first steps toward comprehensive green retrofits, from the removal of all toxic materials to assessments of energy retrofit needs, thus beginning the process of a Green New Deal for Schools, making COVID Capital Grants a downpayment on a decade of physical transformation.