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21st National Healthy Schools Day

Call for $100 million in 2024 Federal Budget to Protect Children from Harmful Airborne Exposures in Schools
Support EPA Office of Air and Radiation / Indoor Environments Division

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 streamed live on CTN. 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, speaking on the Institute’s new report on state approaches to improving ventilation. 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.

Live Stream at:


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,
  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 on indoor air in schools, the 21st Century Schools Fund and 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. If we’re going to acknowledge National Healthy Schools Day in a meaningful way, 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. The majority of our country’s kids spend most of their days in public schools; if they don’t have safe school infrastructure, they can suffer from heatstroke, disrupted sleep cycles and respiratory issues, all of which disrupt learning. 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. In the wake of the pandemic, we must do all we can to ensure the air in our schools gives children the healthiest start possible and uninterrupted access to learning. 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. The ROI for this investment is huge: We will see tremendous benefits for kids across the country. Easier breathing, less anxiety, more focus on learning – that’s what we all want. 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.”

Monica E. Unseld Ph. D, MPH, Founder and Executive Director, Until Justice Data Partners, said: “American students, school administrators, faculty, and staff, are expected to make miracles with the necessary resources and support from the government and society. When we think of the lack of resources, we typically envision teacher pay, and school supplies, but clean air is not mentioned enough. Building and classroom environments can impact the health of those who spend hours in those buildings for most of the year. Here in Louisville, KY, teachers in one high school have received air purifiers for their classrooms as they and their students complain of health impacts from school renovations and poor indoor air quality. Whether the building is new or decades old, building and classroom materials can make people sick. Until Justice Data Partners strongly supports the US EPA Indoor Air program for schools. The importance of clean air and health on school achievement and justice cannot be ignored and increased EPA funding for clean indoor air is a necessary and foundational step for improving the health of all who work and learn in our schools.”

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.”

Green Facility Solution, Albany, New York: “We fully support the 2023 Healthy Schools Day. Most of the cleaning products that we use daily to clean over 3 million square feet are Green Seal approved. We believe that a healthy environment is essential to good health. It is critical that the US EPA fund $110 million to expand its information and technical assistance on clean air in schools and on children’s environmental health research. This worthy cause must be a priority to keep our children and educators safe and healthy.”

Jeff Vincent, Director, Public Infrastructure Initiatives, Center for Cities + Schools, University of California, Berkeley, said: “As school leaders across the country work hard to keep their schools healthy and safe, the US EPA is an essential partner. EPA needs increased funding to expand outreach and technical assistance to expand outreach to schools and on children’s health.”

Sara Ross, co-founder of UndauntedK12, said: “Healthy indoor air quality should be a basic right afforded to everyone, especially children who spend about 1,000 hours per year at school, second only to their homes. A recent report from UndauntedK12 and RMI explains that unhealthy indoor air quality can lead to or exacerbate childhood asthma, which is already responsible for more than 13 million missed school days a year and causes an increase in blood pressure and cancer risk. Even worse, these outcomes often disproportionately fall on children affected by poverty. UndauntedK12 is proud to celebrate National Healthy Schools Day and urges policymakers, lawmakers, and school district leaders to modernize HVAC systems and invest in other technologies to support healthy schools. We can’t have healthy schools without healthy indoor air quality. School districts should act now to seize new funding opportunities available through the Inflation Reduction Act and safeguard student health and opportunities to learn.”

Brent Ibata, author of the book Public Health Law and the Built Environment in American Public Schools: Detailed History with Policy Analysis, said: “In 1842 Horace Mann lamented that our schools are built without ‘any suitable regard to ventilation!’.  Regretfully, this is still the case for many schools. While students are no longer segregated on the basis of race, disabled students are routinely placed in the least desirable spaces in the oldest buildings with the poorest ventilation. It is time to bring the built environment in American public schools into the 21st Century and I strongly support the US EPA Indoor Air program for schools. At the very least, schools should do-no-harm to the most vulnerable students.”

Erik MalmstromSafeTraces, an indoor air/environments consulting group, said: “We wholeheartedly supports the Healthy Schools Network’s call for funding the US EPA at $110M to expand its informational and technical assistance on clean air in schools and on children’s environmental health research. Indoor air quality is vitally important to health & safety and performance & cognition for our students, teachers, and staff. Unfortunately, many districts across the country lack funding, capacity, and support to provide high levels of indoor air quality in school facilities.”

Brian Kasher President of Quality First EHS, said: “School environments either support or impede the learning process. There has been no more effective outreach on matters of environmental health in education than through the important children’s health and education-focused programs of USEPA. Our children can only reach their educational potential if the educational environment supports upper mental activity, and not impede it. School environmental improvement helps all students, not just the immunocompromised or asthmatic. As a parent of school children in Charlotte, NC, a husband, scientist, businessman and educator, I fully endorse and support President Biden’s fully funding CLEAN AIR IN SCHOOLS at $100M annually for schools.”

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. Changes were made in material and product selection, cleaning practices, and pest management to improve safety and air quality in school buildings. Our school communities, staff and especially our children deserve and need schools that keep them safe from harmful exposures and poor indoor air quality.”

Daniel Lefkowitz, PCBsinSchools, said: “I strongly support US EPA Indoor Air program for schools. Schools need help to stay open and recover quickly and indoor air is key to that. We urge President Biden to fully fund CLEAN AIR IN SCHOOLS at $100M annually for schools. In years past, EPA national and regional grants developed a deep knowledge of the complexities of indoor air and how to improve it to generate learning benefits. Today, with climate disasters and more pandemics ahead, parents, teachers, facility directors, and schools need more guidance and technical support on providing healthful indoor environments in schools. Schools must stay open.”

Evan Raskin, EARTHDAY.ORG, as part of ramping up to Earth Day this month, said, “As a leading environmental organization worldwide, we stand in solidarity with the call for strong air quality standards implemented through US EPA funding. One fifth of all Americans spend their day within a school building; without significant resources dedicated to air quality, this country is facing a public health epidemic. Children in communities nationwide deserve a healthy environment to learn and grow. This year throughout April, we call on the EPA to Invest In Our Planet in commemoration of Earth Month. On National Healthy Schools Day on April 4th, the EPA must achieve this by investing in our children’s health and future.”

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.”

In closing, Claire Barnett, Executive Director, Healthy Schools Network, said: “We strongly support US EPA Indoor Air program for schools. Schools need help to stay open and recover quickly and indoor air is key to that. We urge President Biden to fully fund Clean Air in Schools at $100M annually. In years past, EPA national and regional grants developed a deep knowledge of the complexities of indoor air and how to improve it to generate learning benefits. Today, with climate disasters and more pandemics ahead, parents, teachers, facility directors, and schools need more guidance and technical support on providing healthful indoor environments in schools. Schools must stay open.”

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