As the school calendar winds down for summer break, students and families will be making plans for vacations, camp, and trips to the beach. Back on campus, administrators and educators will be preparing for the year ahead, including piecing together a plan to keep their aging buildings operational.

Older heating and air conditioning systems, deteriorating plumbing, and antiquated electric networks are creating increasingly difficult conditions for our students to focus and learn.

But there’s good news: The recently enacted Climate and Equitable Jobs Act established an ambitious plan to invest in our schools to upgrade their basic infrastructure with energy efficient retrofits and solar power. Known as the Carbon-Free Schools program, the initiative was championed by Climate Jobs Illinois, a coalition of labor unions advocating for a pro-worker agenda to fight climate change through equitable investments in our communities’ clean-energy infrastructure.

Illinois schools spend upwards of $322 million in energy costs every year. With this program, not only can we make our schools healthier and safer with better ventilation and lighting and efficiency upgrades, we can also save schools an estimated 25 percent on their energy bills, which means we can put those dollars back into the classroom.

At Lake Park High School in Roselle, its investment in a new $4.4 million solar power system will net them a savings of over $5 million in energy costs over the next 25 years and a $463,000 utility rebate, while the new system has reduced emissions equivalent to taking 991 cars off the roads.

Every student in Illinois deserves to be in an environment like Lake Park that keeps them safe, healthy and focused on learning, not worrying about whether the air conditioning will stay on.

That’s why CEJA’s Carbon-Free Schools program paves a way for Illinois public schools to apply for and tap into renewable energy credits, with specific emphasis on and commitment to schools in historically underinvested communities. Every school district is also entitled to a free energy audit by their utility company to help them identify upgrades and savings opportunities. The new law also requires utilities to develop a plan to get more electric school buses on the roads.

There’s a lot of work to be done, and we can’t do it alone.

If you’re a school administrator, learn how to apply for renewable energy credits and schedule your energy audit.

If you’re a teacher, a parent, or a community member, get the word out. Ask your superintendent or principal to learn more about how to take advantage of these groundbreaking programs.

Climate Jobs Illinois will be hosting a webinar series to help districts understand how they can apply and take their first step toward building a carbon free school. Visit www.climatejobsillinois.org/schools for more information, and let’s get to work.

Kathi Griffin, President, Illinois Education Association

Dan Montgomery, President, Illinois Federation of Teachers

 

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