Make Healthy Schools Day April 8 A Day of Action!

Providing every child with a quality education is a high priority. Of course we want our kids to learn, grow, and be successful. But the reality is that many schools are older buildings with indoor air quality problems that can be fixed, sometimes with easy to use EPA tools that can help student performance at the same time. One in 10 school-age kids have asthma and some schools can have issues with mold, radon and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).) The evidence shows that health and test scores can improve if more schools put in place EPA’s Tools for Schools, which includes a Framework for Effective School Indoor Air Quality Management.

In fact, last week I attended the National Green Schools Conference where I talked with Dave Hill from Blue Valley School District in Kansas. He told me how their students have shown dramatic increases in math and reading test scores over the 12 years using these tools. I also heard from other local and state leaders about how more schools should use these and other EPA tools to improve children’s health, prevent pollution, cut carbon pollution, save energy, reduce pesticide use, and improve test scores!

Another opportunity is to encourage schools to close openings in buildings and eliminate other conditions that attract rodents. These common sense steps called Integrated Pest Management can often help save schools money on energy and pesticide costs while reducing health risks at the same time. Jim Jones recently wrote about the pest problems facing a school in Louisiana and the solutions that allowed the school to get off the “treadmill of never-ending pesticide applications” without addressing the underlying reasons that the school attracted pests in the first place.

Now everyone understands the budget realities faced by most school districts across the country. Yet with the nation’s 17,450 of those K-12 districts spending more than $8 billion annually on energy (more than is spent on computers and textbooks combined), still as much as 30 percent of a school district’s total energy is wasted….what a waste!

Let’s each of us do what we can to help button-up these schools and get them to adopt energy efficiency measures that save money better spent elsewhere. Plus, by doing so, we get the co-benefit of reducing carbon pollution at the same time. Now that’s a two-fer!

EPA is currently working with more than 50,000 K-12 schools across the country to benchmark energy use in EPA’s ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager® tool and some ENERGY STAR award-winning districts are leading the way. For example, Loudoun County Public Schools has saved more than $47 million and prevented the emissions of more than 265,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide over the past 19 years. And Evergreen Public Schools has saved more than $6.5 million since implementing its energy management program in 2008. These examples are great, but we can do better. In fact only about half of America’s schools have even signed up to use the EPA’s benchmarking tool.

That’s where you and I come in. We need to reach out to our family, friends, and local schools to ask if they are using these tools. My wife is a 5th grade teacher so I’ve asked her to forward this information to her principal, other teachers and facility personnel. Can you reach out to those in your network and empower them with this information too?

Let’s build on our progress and use Healthy Schools Day, on April 8, 2014 as one way to get the word out. Join me in encouraging your kids, family, friends, and neighbors to spread the word about the importance of using these helpful tools to improve student health and save money.

Here’s some more useful information to help you take action:

About the author: Matt Bogoshian is Senior Policy Counsel for EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. Matt is also an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University Law Center.

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