Vice President Harris Details Action Plan Progress, Announces Nearly $1 Billion from Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for Clean School Buses
Today, Vice President Harris will provide a six-month progress report on the Biden-Harris Action Plan for Building Better School Infrastructure, outlining a series of actions from across the Administration to upgrade our public schools with healthy, safe, sustainable facilities and transportation. In Seattle, Washington today, Vice President Harris and EPA Administrator Michael Regan will join schoolchildren, parents, district leaders, and community members to announce nearly $1 billion in rebate awards from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to replace existing aging school bus fleets with clean buses.
Since the Action Plan was first announced in April 2022, the Administration has secured new historic legislative accomplishments that build on progress that’s been made to deliver safer, healthier, and more environmentally sustainable learning environments for America’s children, while saving school districts money, creating good jobs, and combatting climate change. In addition to the clean school bus rebate awards, other actions announced today include upgrading school infrastructure, supporting clean energy in rural schools, and improving indoor air quality.
Signed nearly one year ago, President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has made transformational investments to deliver clean school buses to school districts across the nation. In addition, the recently signed Inflation Reduction Act includes $50 million to address air pollution in schools. And, the CHIPS and Science Act authorizes new and expanded investments in STEM education and training for K-12 to community college, undergraduate, and graduate education, and authorizes investments to expand the geographic and institutional diversity of research institutions.
Youth development studies have shown that students need safe and healthy school environments to learn and thrive. This includes the way they get to school: school buses safely transport more than 25 million children every day across America. However, diesel exhaust from buses produces particulate matter and other pollutants that can cause lung damage and aggravate asthma and other health problems in children. In addition, diesel exhaust exposure has been linked to increased school absences. Moreover, many schools rely on outdated heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems that may pose health risks to students and teachers. Studies also show that poor air quality inside classrooms hinders student concentration and performance, and can also increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools, which can threaten the in-person learning experience for students. Reducing this pollution will provide better health and educational outcomes — particularly in low-income communities and communities of color that have long faced the highest burdens of pollution and underinvestment.
Today’s announcements reflect the Biden-Harris Administration’s broader commitment to ensure that America’s children have what they need to thrive. Key milestones and announcements outlined today include:
Clean School Buses: Today, Vice President Harris and Administrator Regan announced 391 rebate awards of nearly $1 billion from the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law through EPA’s Clean School Bus Program – the first installment of the $5 billion total that will be awarded over five years. The awards will go to school districts in all 50 states and Washington D.C., in addition to several U.S. territories and institutions serving federally recognized Tribes. The new awards will support the purchase of 2,463 buses, and 95% of these buses will be electric.
Additionally, EPA announced new details about the upcoming competitive grant program for Fiscal Year 2023, including information regarding priorities and eligibility. This new program design will leverage federal dollars to reduce electric bus prices, ensure equitable deployment, and encourage the expansion of electric bus manufacturing capacity.
Making Public Schools More Energy Efficient: This week, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced new initiatives through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and existing programs to lower energy costs for America’s public schools, including through:
- Renew America’s Schools Grants. DOE took the next step to administer $80 million in funding for its Renew America’s Schools grant program under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law by issuing the Notice of Intent. These grants will focus on high-impact improvements in rural and high-poverty school districts, innovative technology solutions, and innovative partnership and funding models that can build healthier, more energy efficient schools. This funding will be made available to public schools later this fall.
- Energy Champions Leading the Advancement of Sustainable Schools Prize (Energy CLASS Prize). DOE simultaneously launched the Energy CLASS Prize, where it will provide up to 25 school districts direct resources to staff and train administration and facilities personnel on strategic energy management, including project development and funding to advance school sustainability. The Energy CLASS Prize will provide a total of $4.5 million in awards, including $3.75 million for selected local educational agencies to fund energy management professionals-in-training and an additional $750k in technical support.
- Better Buildings and Better Climate Challenge. These leadership challenges encourage participants across market sectors to increase energy efficiency, lower costs, and reduce GHG emissions. As of 2021, K-12 Better Buildings Challenge partners have cumulatively saved $108 million in energy costs and reduced 0.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent since the Challenge was launched in 2011. To date, nine unique K-12 partners have achieved their goal of reducing energy use by 20% within 10 years.
- Promoting Efficient Schools. DOE recently launched the second round of its Efficient and Healthy Schools Campaign, which aims to advance energy performance, reduce carbon emissions, increase resilience, and promote a healthy learning environment in schools through recognition, training, technical assistance from Lawrence Berkley National Lab, and 1-1 consultations with individual schools. DOE also released school efficiency enhancement guides with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory for schools looking to replace a chiller, boiler, rooftop unit, or building controls. For more information, please attend the kickoff webinar on November 8th by Registering Here.
Improving Indoor Air in Classrooms: DOE is providing support to the Bureau of Indian Education to improve indoor environmental quality at bureau-owned schools. The DOE Federal Energy Management Program, in conjunction with the Efficient and Healthy Schools Campaign, is helping the Bureau initiate a set of pilot assessments in Tribal schools for energy efficiency and indoor air quality projects. In FY 22, the initiative was kicked off by conducting audits at three schools to evaluate the indoor air quality, lighting, and outdoor air quality of the sites. These assessments resulted in recommendations to reduce thermal discomfort, noise, and indoor pollution to provide a safer and healthy learning environment.
Ensuring Children Get to School Safely: The Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Safe Routes to Schools program provides federal funding eligibility for projects to improves the ability of primary, middle, and high school students to walk and bicycle to school safely. DOT recently released updated guidance for its Surface Transportation Block Grants and the Transportation Alternatives program—which together total over $15 billion per year in funding—to ensure that states can use funding from these Programs, as well as through the Highway Safety Improvement Program, to fund Safe Routes to Schools projects.
Bringing Clean Energy to Rural Schools: In April, USDA released guidance that informs how Rural Development programs can support rural electric cooperatives to advance electrification projects for schools and other public facilities and vehicles. As a result, BARC Electric in Bath County, Virginia, worked with the local school system to use Rural Energy Savings Program funds to install and maintain solar systems on each of the three schools in their service territory. The installations have significantly reduced electricity costs and serve as a training tool for the students. In addition, Rural Development’s Community Facilities Program—which offers direct loans, loan guarantees and grants to develop or improve essential public services and facilities across rural America—funded two electric school buses and one electric school bus charging station in Fiscal Year 2022.
Uplifting Sustainable and Healthy Schools: The U.S. Department of Education is inviting all states to submit nominations of sustainable schools. U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) is a federal recognition award designed to spotlight school sustainability achievements and inspire other schools. States may nominate schools, districts, postsecondary institutions, and early learning centers that are leading in reducing environmental impact and costs, improving health and wellness, and offering effective environmental sustainability education. ED-GRS honorees engage in conservation behaviors, install renewable energy technologies, design and build gardens and farms, implement holistic indoor air quality, pest management, and contaminant control plans, and offer outdoors, active, problem, project, and place-based learning.
Independent experts estimate that school districts are spending 14.6 billion of their $122 billion in American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency relief funds in school infrastructure investments to prevent illness, including $10 billion to improve indoor air quality, through investments in HVAC systems. In addition, the Department of Treasury released an American Rescue Plan FAQ with information to help recipients of State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds understand how they can partner with local education agencies to fund school building upgrades and construction.
Supporting Good Jobs: The Department of Labor’s (DOL) Good Jobs Initiative is working to ensure that federal infrastructure investments result in meaningful opportunities for good paying union career jobs across the country. Recently, DOL worked with EPA on creating a rebate program for school bus driver training. For the first time, training is now an eligible cost covered, offering robust workforce development opportunities and equitable access to skill building.