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Jamaal Bowman Unveils $1.4 Trillion Green New Deal for Public Schools

The bill would provide funding for green retrofits of schools while also tackling inequity within the education system.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman speaks at a "No Climate, No Deal" rally in Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., on June 28, 2021.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-New York) has introduced a bill aimed at combating the climate crisis while reducing inequities within the public school system called the Green New Deal for Public Schools.

The bill would invest $1.43 trillion over the next decade to upgrade and retrofit every public school building to be more climate-friendly, with a focus on schools with the highest need. It would also invest in expansions of social services at schools and funding for students from low-income families.

“It’s time for a revolution in public education,” said Bowman, a former teacher and middle school principal, in a statement. “The Green New Deal for Public Schools represents the level of school infrastructure investment that is urgent and necessary to heal the harm from decades of disinvestment, redlining and cycles of poverty and trauma, particularly for Black and brown children.”

The legislation has the backing of 22 cosponsors in the House, including members of the progressive “squad” like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York). It’s also backed by progressive organizations like the Democratic Socialists of America and the Working Families Party; education groups like the American Federation of Teachers, the second largest teacher’s union in the U.S.; and climate organizations like Sierra Club and

Bowman told The Washington Post that his proposal also has support from the White House, as it aligns with Joe Biden’s goal to cut climate emissions.

The bill calls for $446 billion in funding for what it deems “Climate Capital Facilities” grants and a “Climate Change Resiliency Program” that would provide funding for green retrofits. It offers the most funding for schools with the highest need, as determined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Social Vulnerability Index.

The bill allocates $250 billion in funding for high-need schools to hire staff and expand social services and, if the school chooses, “adopt trauma-informed, culturally responsive, and restorative justice practices” and partner with local organizations to offer after-school programs.

Additionally, Bowman’s bill proposes $695 billion to quadruple Title I funding, which provides financial assistance to schools with large numbers of students from low-income families, and increased funding under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which the Education Department uses to guide and aid special education programs.

Research from the climate + community project finds that Bowman’s bill, if enacted, could reduce carbon emissions by 78 million metric tons annually, or the equivalent of taking 17 million cars off the road. The organization also projects that the bill would fund 1.3 million jobs a year.

The climate + community project explains in a report on the Green New Deal for Public Housing that racist policies like redlining and a lack of federal oversight over public education has led to a stratified education system that benefits students from wealthy families while further suppressing students from low-income families and communities of color.

“The Green New Deal for K–12 Public Schools will address the contemporary needs of historically disinvested communities to create sustainable and just futures by directly investing in green retrofits for schools in high-need districts and communities,” the climate + community project explains.

“Schools are the best epicenter to be leaders in what climate infrastructure should look like, in terms of sustainable energy, in terms of renewable energy, and in terms of energy sharing,” Bowman told The Washington Post. “In terms of how we support the social, emotional and economic needs for students and families within a particular community to prepare for the challenges of climate change — our schools are not doing any of that at this moment.”

Progressives in the House are aiming to get Bowman’s bill incorporated into Senate Democrats’ $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill, specifically the proposal for $446 billion in funding for green retrofits for schools.