Rep. Jamaal Bowman speaks during a news conference.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) speaks during a news conference in Washington, D.C. on November 19, 2020. (Photo: Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images)

'Time for a Revolution in Public Education': Bowman Unveils Green New Deal for US Schools

"As we deal with a devastating climate crisis caused by decades of unchecked corporate greed, we need to center our children and their future."

Democratic congressman and longtime educator Jamaal Bowman unveiled legislation Thursday morning that would invest $1.43 trillion over 10 years in transforming the nation's public schools in line with what experts say is needed to combat the climate emergency and reverse the harm inflicted by decades of disinvestment.

"What this comes down to is whether we're willing to provide our kids with the resources they need to realize their brilliance and have a livable planet."
--Rep. Jamaal Bowman

Bowman (D-N.Y.) and 22 original co-sponsors introduced the Green New Deal for Public Schools Act (pdf) as congressional Democrats continue to hash out the details of a multitrillion-dollar infrastructure and climate package that they hope to pass unilaterally using the budget reconciliation process.

The New York Democrat said in a statement Thursday that "it's time for a revolution in public education," and he is aiming to include provisions of his bill in the emerging reconciliation package.

"As we deal with a devastating climate crisis caused by decades of unchecked corporate greed, we need to center our children and their future," said Bowman, who was a public school principal in the Bronx prior to his successful 2020 congressional bid.

Bowman presented his legislation as a remedy to longstanding education crises stemming from years of cuts to public school funding in states across the country, which have disproportionately impacted the poor and people of color. The deadly coronavirus pandemic has placed massive additional strain on the nation's public schools, and some states have resorted to pursuing further education cuts to cover budget shortfalls.

"What this comes down to is whether we're willing to provide our kids with the resources they need to realize their brilliance and have a livable planet," Bowman said Thursday. "Do we want to continue building a world based on militarization, incarceration, poverty, and destruction of resources? Or will we take advantage of this moment, put our kids and educators first, and treat the climate crisis as the emergency it is? This legislation is what we need to put us on the right side of history."

According to a summary released by Bowman's office, the new bill would upgrade every public school building in the country and hire hundreds of thousands of additional educators and support staff.

New research by the Climate + Community Project, also unveiled Thursday, shows that Bowman's legislation would fund 1.3 million jobs annually and eliminate 78 million metric tons of CO2 emissions each year by decarbonizing the nation's K-12 public schools.

"Schools need the investment," the researchers write. "The American Society of Civil Engineers has estimated that the country's public schools require $380 billion just to meet standards of good repair--never mind climate resiliency and decarbonization. In June 2020, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimated that about 54% of all public school districts in the U.S. need at least two major systems updated or replaced in most of their school facilities, and about 26% of all districts need at least six systems updated or replaced."

The summary of the Green New Deal for Public Schools Act notes that the bill includes:

  • $446 billion in Climate Capital Facilities Grants and $40 billion for a Climate Change Resiliency Program

    • Climate Capital Facilities Grants will fully fund healthy green retrofits for the highest-need third of schools, as measured by the CDC Social Vulnerability Index, and offer a mix of grant funding and no- or low-interest loans for the middle and top thirds. Grants will cover two-thirds and one-third of retrofit costs for these schools, respectively.

  • $250 billion in Resource Block Grants

    • Resource Block Grants will fund staffing increases, expanded social service programming, and curriculum development at high-need schools. The program will allow Local Educational Agencies across the country to hire and train hundreds of thousands of additional educators and support staff, including paraprofessionals, school psychologists and counselors, and learning specialists. The funds may also be used to design locally-rooted curricula; adopt trauma-informed, culturally responsive, and restorative justice practices, to move towards a "whole child" approach to public education; and partner with community organizations to offer a range of services to schools and surrounding neighborhoods, such as after-school programs.

  • $100 million for an Educational Equity Planning Grants Pilot Program

    • Educational Equity Planning Grants will encourage neighboring Local Education Agencies to form regional consortia, which will receive funding to conduct extensive community outreach, identify the historical and current sources of educational disparities within the region, and create and implement a Regional Education Equity Plan to address those disparities. This pilot program is modeled on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grants, which are designed to encourage equitable, locally-driven economic development.

  • $695 billion over 10 years for Title I and IDEA (Individuals With Disabilities Education Act) increases

    • This bill proposes quadrupling Title I funding to reach $66 billion annually to support schools and districts with students living in poverty, as well as increasing funding for IDEA Part B to reach $33 billion annually to support students with disabilities.

In a statement endorsing Bowman's legislation, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten said the bill "makes the bold investments in America's K-12 education system we need, from retrofitting school buildings, to investing in school staff and mental health professionals, all while addressing historic inequities so we can build a just future where every kid can access basic opportunities to thrive."

"As we navigate the ever-growing climate crisis and school buildings that are ill-equipped to deal with it," said Weingarten, "we find ourselves with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to meet the moment, and ensure all our students can learn in schools where they can drink clean water, breathe clean air, and be free from mold and broken windows."

It's unclear which sections of Bowman's bill, if any, will make it into Democrats' reconciliation package. In an interview with the Washington Post on Thursday, Bowman said that "we are in ongoing negotiation and communication with leadership to ensure that provisions of this bill are included in reconciliation."

"You have parts of the country that are reaching 118 degrees, parts of the country have never been that hot, recent storms on the east coast, massive flood and destruction of property--I mean, climate change is here, and it's real," said Bowman. "I encourage my colleagues to be on the right side of history. This about their legacy, and all of our legacies: How do we respond to the climate crisis that's right in front of us? History will tell the story of who answered that question correctly."

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