Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, praised the passage of legislation that would help renovate and modernize public schools in California and around the country.

By a 250-164 vote, the House on Wednesday night passed the 21st Century Green High-Performing Public School Facilities Act (House Resolution 3021), which would provide funding to states and school districts to help ensure that school facilities and learning environments are safe, healthy, energy-efficient, environmentally friendly and technologically advanced. The legislation includes $766.5 million in funding for physical improvement projects for California schools.

“We need to ensure that all of our kids can learn in a school environment that is safe and healthy,” Capps said. “For far too long, the federal government has been a bad partner with our local schools and communities – pushing unfunded education mandates while neglecting to pay our fair share of the cost of educating our children. Shifting the bulk of the funding burden to states and local communities has been unfair and shortsighted. As the economy has worsened, many states have had to cut back on education funding, further straining local school budgets. This bill will help our schools modernize and become safer and more energy efficient, even in these tough economic times.”

According to recent estimates, America’s public schools are hundreds of billions of dollars short of the funding needed to bring them into good condition.

While Congress provided $1.2 billion in funding for emergency school repairs in 2001, and provided additional resources for schools devastated by Hurricane Katrina and Rita, the Bush administration has not provided direct funding for general school construction in any of its budgets in the past eight years. As a result, schools have been forced to rely mostly on state and local funding for any repair or renovation projects.

Overall, HR 3021 would authorize $6.4 billion for school renovation and modernization projects for fiscal year 2009, and would ensure that school districts quickly receive funds for projects that improve schools’ teaching and learning climates, health and safety, and energy efficiency. To further encourage energy efficiency and the use of renewable resources in schools, the bill would require that the majority of funds for school improvement projects meet widely recognized green-building standards and would provide states with funds to help schools track their facilities’ needs, energy use and carbon footprints, among other things.

In the Gulf Coast, where public schools still face hundreds millions of dollars unmet need in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the legislation would authorize separate funds – a half-billion dollars over five years – for schools.

In addition, the legislation would bring immediate benefits to workers in the nation’s construction industry – one of the sectors hit hardest by the recent economic downturn – and would ensure fair wages and benefits for workers by applying Davis-Bacon protections to all grants awarded for school improvement projects. 

Click here for more information on HR 3021.

The 21st Century Green High-Performing Public School Facilities Act is supported by a broad coalition of organizations, including the AFL-CIO, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the American Federation of Teachers, the American Association of School Administrators, the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, the California Small School Districts Association, Californians for School Facilities, the Council of the Great City Schools, the Green Building Initiative, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, the International Union of Operating Engineers, the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, the Mason Contractors Association of America, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Education Association, the National School Boards Association, the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada, the Parent Teacher Association, the Rebuild America’s Schools Coalition, and the U.S. Green Building Council.

Emily Kryder is press secretary for Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara.