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Coalition Calls for $100 million in 2024 Federal Budget to Protect School Children from Dirty Air

By: PRLog

Support EPA Office of Air and Radiation/Indoor Environments Division

WASHINGTON - April 4, 2023 - PRLog -- Marking the 21st Annual National Healthy Schools Day (NHSD), a national coalition of parents, teachers, school professionals, and environment and public health groups have come together to call on President Joe Biden to include $100 million in his Fiscal Year 2024 budget request for the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Office of Air and Radiation/Indoor Environments Division to protect school children and personnel from unhealthy environments in schools and childcare facilities.

The coalition is also requesting inclusion of an additional $10 million for EPA's Office of Children's Health Protection to increase public health research services for children's environmental health.

"School building conditions have been neglected for decades," said national Coalition coordinator Claire L Barnett whose office hosts National Healthy Schools Day annually. "But schools and their communities can help by using US EPA's voluntary guidance on effective interventions. EPA has the authorizations and the proven programs to help schools address complex facility issues. When children have school-induced asthma, headaches, nausea, and bloody noses, attendance and test scores drop, families are extra-stressed, and health care costs rise. With robust funding from congress, EPA can activate Biden's languishing Clean Air in Schools challenge with expanded national outreach and technical assistance to states and schools and communities. Congress could help lift standardized test scores and reduce health care costs if it appropriates $100M to EPA's office of air for school indoor air and $10M to EPA's office of children's health for research and health services."

A top feature of this year's National Healthy Schools Day will be a day-long forum, today, April 4th on healthy school environments taking place in Hartford, CT and hosted by labor unions. Keynote speakers include: Claire Barnett, executive director on the NY based Healthy Schools Network; Joellen Lawson, founder, Connecticut Foundation for Environmentally Safe Schools (ConnFESS); and Tobie Bernstein, Senior Attorney,  Environmental Law Institute. The Forum will also elevate the impacts of climate on children and on indoor air as well as the use of green cleaning products and safer disinfectants to reduce the presence of asthma-causing and other hazards in the air and on surfaces inside schools. The forum will be live-streamed by CTN.

Letters to Biden and EPA Administrator Regan made public

In view of the decades of neglect of dirty indoor air in school buildings nationwide, the lack of a federal budget to address the crisis that sickens children and staff, and absence of improvements to indoor air to during the air borne COVID-19 pandemic, the Coalition is releasing two letters to the public to underscore the issues and their importance to the future of  children and education:

1-    Letter to US EPA Administrator Michael Regan signed by ninety national and state organizations, urging he request an appropriation of $110M to meet the enormous challenge; and, [CB1] and, 2-    Letter to President Biden signed by sixteen US Senators, led by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) urging a $110M appropriation to advance clean air in schools and children's health. The Biden FY 24 EPA budget request omits that request.

Events. In addition to the Hartford, CT forum, the 21st Century Schools Fund, National Council on School Facilities, and the [Re]Build America's School Infrastructure Coalition (BASIC) held a March 28th briefing on Capitol Hill, and visited key staff for education authorizers and appropriators to educate them on the issues with K-12 buildings and grounds and the need for more federal engagement to address the deteriorated conditions in PK-12 public schools, particularly in low wealth communities.  SafeTraces will sponsor a webinar on how school districts can develop and implement a district-wide indoor air quality programs. Other groups are providing educational and informational materials to communities and to schools.

Statements of Support. Below are selected statements of support for funding for EPA to address Indoor Environments in schools and children's health research and services.

Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers, said: "Creating healthy schools means prioritizing every aspect of a child's well-being, from the food they eat, to the after-school programs they participate in, to the air they breathe. We found out during the pandemic that far too many of our children are still attending schools with dangerously outdated HVAC systems and walls lined with asbestos.... We must celebrate the Biden administration's historic investment in climate that addresses indoor air quality improvements in schools, removes lead pipes, and calls for electric school buses, but we also must invest in the EPA's healthy schools programs, which cover a range of things found in schools, from mold remediation to possibly toxic art supplies..... This is part of a much bigger agenda: By addressing the environmental hazards in our public schools, we are addressing climate change, we are addressing environmental injustice, and we are creating the best learning conditions for our kids."

The National Education Association strongly supports an additional $110 million in funding for the Environmental Protection Agency's work on indoor air quality to create the safest and healthiest schools possible for our students. EPA's long history of providing school-related information and technical assistance demonstrates that the agency has both the ability and mandate to play a broader role in ensuring that students learn and educators work in safe, healthy, and just spaces.

Abbie Malloy, Director of Health, Environmental, and Nutrition Policy, First Focus on Children, said: "As advocates for children, First Focus on Children strongly supports the US EPA Indoor Air program for schools. Indoor air pollution causes coughs, headaches, nosebleeds, and a myriad of other health concerns for students, detracting from their ability to learn and play..... President Biden and Congress must fully fund the EPA's Indoor Air Quality in Schools program. Our children need investments that make schools safe and healthy places to grow, learn, and develop."

Kenneth Mendez, President and CEO of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) said: "Let's be 100% clear: All children in schools deserve clean, healthy air to grow, learn, and thrive, but it is especially important for children with asthma and allergies. Poor indoor air quality (IAQ) in schools can trigger allergies and asthma symptoms and asthma remains a leading cause of missed school days. The EPA has a long history of supporting healthy school environments but does not have adequate funding to provide the assistance so many schools in our country desperately need. It is up to Congress to prioritize our children and fund the EPA.....  AAFA is a supporter of the EPA's efforts to improve the quality of indoor air for our nation's schools. Including this appropriation is a small and important step in making that happen."

Mary Filardo, 21st Century School Fund, said: "Access to up-to-date, comprehensive, independent data, information, and research from EPA on indoor air quality in schools is a critical resource needed by communities, districts, states, and sister agencies: US Department of Education, the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) and the Department of Energy (DOE). EPA's work to use these informational resources for technical assistance and training has helped schools, districts, and states over the years, but was especially critical for navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. A $110 million level of funding to increase the national and regional outreach; provide grants to states/cities, NGOs, and Tribes; convene grantees and sponsor technical symposia; update research and reports and technical guidance; and participate in and inform other EPA and federal agency activities impacting the nation's public school infrastructure will help all states and districts get better value from the over $110 billion that communities spend annually on elementary and secondary public school facilities."

Carolyn Smith-Evans, Healthy Schools Caucus, said: "We must support increasing proposed funding of $110 million for USEPA to improve Indoor Air Quality in schools for Children's Health. As a teacher, I saw my district become a leader in Oregon after staff attended EPA Tools For Schools trainings. Once district staff had appropriate information and technical supports from EPA, the district transformed how buildings were designed, built, remodeled, and maintained...."

New Jersey Work Environment Council, whose Healthy Schools Now-NJ program regularly conducts school walk throughs and health and safety trainings said, "Healthy Schools Now-NJ actively supports EPA funding for IAQ in schools and children's environmental research in order for all children and school employees to have safe, healthy, and modernized school buildings to learn and work."

View all statements

Claire Barnett

Photos: (Click photo to enlarge)

Healthy Schools Network Logo National Healthy Schools Day Apr 4 & all week long

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