A Biden administration plan for building better school infrastructure includes upgrading districts with modern, clean, energy efficient facilities and transportation.
The plan announced by Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday also focuses on delivering health and learning benefits to children and school communities, in the process promising to save schools money and create union jobs. “The action plan activates the entire federal government in leveraging investments from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and American Rescue Plan to advance solutions including energy efficiency retrofits, electric school buses and resilient design,” a U.S. Department of Education Fact Sheet states.
In addition to outdated classroom heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems that may pose health risks to students and teachers, the release states that “dirty diesel buses” in operation as well as while idling emit harmful exhaust that pollutes communities and school sites.
“Studies show that poor air quality inside classrooms takes a toll on student concentration and performance, and diesel exhaust exposure is linked to increased school absences,” the release states. “Reducing this pollution will provide better health and educational outcomes — particularly in low-income communities and communities of color that have long faced underinvestment and the burden of high pollution.”
The new actions are building on the American Rescue Plan, which President Joe Biden signed into law a year ago, that focuses on health and safety measures like ventilation improvements in schools.
The new Biden-Harris Action Plan plans for several classroom improvement programs and grants. In relation to school transportation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with support from the U.S. Department of Energy is releasing online resources to help school districts and other eligible recipients prepare for the $5 billion Clean School Bus Program. As School Transportation News previously reported, the first funding opportunity will be in the form of a rebate program and will open later this month.
“The DOE is working closely with the EPA to develop targeted technical assistance programs that assist school districts in implementing clean and electric buses effectively into their fleets–starting with a technical assistance video series on electric buses,” the release states. “To support projects that help students safely walk and bike to school, the Department of Transportation has provided state and local governments with new guidance to access $90 billion in available federal funding, including Bipartisan Infrastructure Law programs.”
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Additionally, the EPA is building public awareness for the Clean School Bus Program. Throughout the next month, the EPA will regularly post new online resources and webinars for the program to help school districts and other eligible recipients.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law also expanded the eligibility of the Safe Routes to School Program to include schools through the 12th grade. It also added eligibility for safe school route projects through the $17 billion-per-year Highway Safety Improvement Program, including using funds for training and education, the release states.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a new commitment to support school facilities and vehicle electrification, including school buses. The USDA released new guidance that discusses how Rural Development programs can support electric cooperatives.
“These funding and assistance programs can support rural utilities like those in a newly formed Electric Cooperative School Bus Initiative, a collaboration of more than 350 local distribution cooperatives across 32 states, providing educational and administrative support to help rural communities access funding for electric school buses and school bus infrastructure,” the release adds.