Schools Prioritizing Federal Funds to Improve Air Quality

Measures will help create healthier working and learning environments for staff and students.

November 15, 2022

A report recently released by the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has found U.S. school districts widely committing funding from last year’s American Rescue Plan (ARP) to upgrading or improving their air filtration and heating/cooling systems, more so than for other facility improvements.

The report, titled School Facilities Funding in the Pandemic, analyzed spending plans of 5,004 school districts from all 50 states and the District of Columbia in conjunction with interviews with three school districts to identify how districts plan to spend billions of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER III) funds allocated by the ARP.

The report has revealed that US$5.5 billion is planned to be spent on improved or upgraded air filtration and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), second only to spending on staff. In the air filtration/HVAC category and the repairs category, the average planned spend is approximately $260,000 per school. Around 500 school districts plan to spend over $1 million per school on one or both of these categories.

Findings in other categories included $2.6 billion planned for repairing/improving school facilities, $271 million for upgrading windows, roofs, and doors, and nearly $11 million for UV lighting for disease mitigation.

District interviewees highlighted the importance of having substantial federal dollars to invest in costly HVAC infrastructure projects, which would otherwise be delayed or addressed in phases. They also reported being able to keep energy usage and costs to a minimum where HVAC upgrades had been made in their schools compared to schools with outdated systems. Similarly, districts reported positive results from spending in other facilities categories to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the school buildings.

“Federal funding has given school districts a financial lifeline to make improvements at schools and help reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection. These upgrades can go beyond the pandemic and yield positive results that last far into the future,” said Anisa Heming, director for the USGBC Center of Green Schools. “By investing in school facility upgrades, these schools are creating healthier working and learning environments for staff and students, and we will continue to encourage districts to allocate remaining funds to green building strategies that improve health and operational performance.” 

However, interviewees also noted that they face real constraints on their projects due to the COVID-19 pandemic, associated supply chain issues, and the rising rate of inflation. 

To learn more about improving indoor air quality (IAQ), be sure to register and attend the free webinar Rethink IAQ: How to Blend Science and Cleaning to Improve Indoor Air Quality in Facilities at 11 a.m. CT on Wednesday, November 16, 2022.

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