In summary

Fixing poor ventilation in classrooms may slow the spread of COVID-19 when children and teachers return, and create new job opportunities.

By Barbara Sattler and

Barbara Sattler is a registered nurse and a founding and board member of the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, bsattler@usfca.edu. 

Rico Tamayo, Special to CalMatters

Rico Tamayo is the president of the California Federation of Teachers Early Childhood-K12 Council, rtamayo@cft.org.

Even prior to COVID-19, researchers had flagged poor ventilation in classrooms as dangerous to students.

Poor ventilation has been linked to falling test scores and poor attendance, as well as respiratory illness. Statewide and national studies show that our schools’ ventilation problems are systemic.

As a registered nurse and public health advocate, and the California Federation of Teachers’ Early Childhood and K-12 Council president, this issue has long concerned both of us. 

But now, with COVID-19 spreading throughout California, it’s more urgent than ever that we provide safe spaces for our children and their teachers. The Healthy Schools, Healthy Recovery, Healthy Air bill, Assembly Bill 841, does just that. By taking advantage of a limited opportunity to solve our schools’ ventilation problem in the long-term, the bill will help create safer air in classrooms that may slow the spread of COVID-19 when children and teachers return, and provide a new work opportunity for those among the 2.8 million Californians that are currently unemployed.

While California’s school-aged children are distance learning we can invest money locally and provide an opportunity for workers to make these urgently needed repairs and upgrades – but only if we move quickly and act now.

AB 841, introduced by Assmblymember Phil Ting, a Democrat from San Francisco, is unique in that it focuses on those most in need of these critical upgrades and jobs. The bill will address schools in low-income areas first, which have long been underfunded, under-resourced and have the highest need for improvements. These efficiency improvements will save schools money, allowing more funds to go toward supplies for students instead of utility bills. 

Importantly – we do not need more funding to pay for this. AB 841 authorizes a one-time redirection of unspent energy efficiency funds from investor-owned utilities to schools. Workers would be mobilized to replace and upgrade HVAC systems, increase energy efficiency, as well as repair water fixtures that can leach lead into drinking water. 

In addition to supporting new jobs through school upgrades, AB 841 will also put people to work building out California’s electric vehicle charging infrastructure. By streamlining the approval process of charging projects at the California Public Utility Commission, we can create quality jobs bringing cleaner air to communities that need them most – providing important job training that ensures long-term career pathways where there are often too few.  

With efficient HVAC upgrades and new investment in zero-emission vehicles that cuts greenhouse gas emissions, AB 841 takes us a step closer to creating a healthier climate and a robust clean economy for our children to inherit.

While many of our schools sit empty, now is the time for state leaders to take advantage of this rare opportunity to make our schools healthier places and generate jobs and economic benefits at a time when we need them most. AB 841 represents an opportunity to do something positive in an otherwise dire situation.

We ask our state leaders to vote yes on AB 841, to improve the health and safety of children, to ensure a safe work environment for California teachers in the time of the coronavirus and beyond, and to create good jobs that can help families weather this period of economic hardship. 

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