3 Things in the Senate Climate-Change Bill That Could Affect K-12 Schools

A sweeping new proposal to tackle climate change that’s gaining momentum on Capitol Hill includes funding opportunities for schools to operate electric buses and improve air quality in buildings.

But the K-12 items are short on details so far, and represent only a tiny fraction of the proposed $369 billion spending package.

Senate Democrats say the legislation would help curb the devastating effects of climate change, reduce inflation, and raise taxes on corporations. The lawmakers announced the proposal with little prior warning after negotiating for more than a year over how to tackle the party’s many priorities, from child care and paid leave to health care and immigration.

But K-12 items that were part of those negotiations at times, like upgrading school facilities and establishing universal pre-K, didn’t make it to the proposed legislation. The bill, the “Inflation Reduction Act,” could be revised further and is not guaranteed to pass both houses.

Tucked away more than 600 pages into the 725-page bill are brief nodes to K-12 schools. The total amount of grant funding from which K-12 schools could benefit represents one-tenth of 1 percent of the overall proposed spending.

Here are three takeaways:

Addressing air pollution: The bill proposes $37.5 million in grants, and another $12.5 million in technical assistance, to help schools in “low-income and disadvantaged communities … monitor and reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions,” and develop environmental action plans.

Schools in America annually emit 72 million tons of carbon dioxide—equivalent to the output of eight million homes, or 18 coal plants, according to an analysis of US Department of Energy data by the advocacy group Generation180. Air quality has been a major concern for districts as the spread of COVID-19 stressed schools’ outdated ventilation systems.

School bus replacement: Nonprofit school transportation associations are among the groups that would be able to apply for $400 million in grants to replace existing vehicles with low-emission equivalents, like electric school buses. States, municipalities, and Native American tribes are also listed as eligible applicants; school districts are not.

Ninety-five percent of school buses in the US run on diesel fuel. The federal government last year launched a $500 billion rebate program for schools to replace existing buses with electric ones, given that electric buses cost more than double what traditional buses that run on diesel cost. Advocates say far more investment is needed to ensure the nation’s entire fleet converts to low emissions.

Other low-emission transportation incentives: Educators might also be interested in the bill’s proposed tax credits of up to $7,500 for people who purchase a new electric vehicle, and $4,000 for buyers of used electric vehicles.

Nine in 10 teachers, principals, and district leaders who answered an EdWeek Research Center survey in July said they drive to work in a nonelectric car. Tax incentives could further spur already-growing interest in electric cars.

One-third of educators who answered the survey said they’d be more likely to drive an electric car to work if their employer installed infrastructure for charging vehicles during the workday.

A smattering of districts, including in Austin, Texas, and Los Angeles, already offer electric vehicle charging on campus. The rural Schoharie district in New York is installing electric vehicle chargers as a recruitment tool for new employees. As electric vehicle adoption grows, more districts might follow their example.

Earlier this year, Education Week launched an ongoing series detailing school districts’ role in contributing to climate change and the challenges they face in dealing with its effects on students and staff. Here’s what district leaders can do right now to get started in addressing those issue.