Testimony to US Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
Hearing on Green Schools
Tuesday October 1, 2002
The Funders’ Forum on Environment and Education
Geri Unger; E-mail email@example.com
Schools provide the opportunity for advancement of knowledge and creation of a civil society. The type of school facility that we provide out children is indicative of the care and respect we hope they will grow with. Schools must be safe, healthy and inspirational places for study. The full funding and implementation of the Healthy High Performance Schools Provision of the Leave Nor Child Behind Act will lead the way in insuring that every child in the USA has a seat in a school which is:
w Environmentally friendly or “green”
w Community Centered
w Open to creative learning opportunities
Studies conducted over the last decade have shown that healthy schools, with proper ventilation, lighting, and high indoor air quality, make a positive difference in the health and academic performance of the children attending them. Despite these documented results, both existing and new schools fail to provide students and staff with healthy and academically conducive buildings. The US Department of Education in its 1999 report on the Condition of American Public Schools Facilities surveyed some 78,300 regular public schools, and estimated that at least $268 billion is needed for major rehabilitation and new construction of public schools across the country. USEPA estimates that one-half of our nation’s public schools have indoor air quality problems. This represents an enormous opportunity to renovate and design schools that provide a healthy educational environment for students and teachers, build social capital in surrounding communities, cost less to operate, and impact lightly on the ecological health of the environment. In spite of clear evidence that such design can result in better health, increased learning capacity, and cost savings, numerous obstacles to the implementation of these “high performance” schools exist.
-Perhaps the biggest obstacle to school facilities being healthy and high performance is the lack of understanding among key decision-makers and financers of the benefits of environmentally healthy schools. Bringing together school facility managers, educators, school finance professionals, architects, and health professionals to create a strategy for implementing high performance schools is a necessary first step toward improving learning environments for all students and establishing schools as centers of community.
Schools are important focal points of neighborhoods and families, and the springboard for a civil society. As more children come from single parent and dual-income families, the school and its surroundings increasingly become a second home to children, especially in the elementary years. High performance schools provide a range of benefits including a healthy, non-toxic environment during the extended school day, enhanced learning ability and the opportunity for community leadership in health and environmental issues. Every day one in five Americans (approximately 55 million people) occupies a school building, and the majority of these occupants are children. Children and teachers spend at least six hours per day in school buildings. In many communities the extended school day for children in before- and after-school care can result in children in school facilities for up to 12 hours. Healthy Schools Network’s Claire Barnett suggests that “Children spend 90% of their time indoors and the great indoors is always dirtier, more crowded, and more polluted than the great out of doors especially in densely occupied, poorly maintained schools.” Increasingly, it is important to provide a healthy environment for these students and their teachers. Studies have shown that enhanced indoor air quality, reduction of air-borne pollutants, increased ventilation, increased day lighting, and access to safe outdoor spaces enhances student ability to concentrate and study. Asthma is the leading cause of school absenteeism due to chronic illness, accounting for over 10 million missed school days per year. Nearly one in 13 school age children has asthma, and the impact falls disproportionately on African American and certain Hispanic populations, particularly those living in urban areas (often representing distressed - both from an achievement and facilities standpoint - school districts, where students can least afford to miss school). In 1997-1998, 8.3 percent of non-Hispanic Black children living in families below the poverty level had asthma, the highest for all racial groups and income levels. Studies show that one-half our nation’s 115,000 schools have problems linked to indoor air quality that may include common asthma triggers such as pests, mold and dander, as well as cleaning agents, chemicals, pesticides, and poorly ventilated workspaces.
The economic aspects of school management are a key consideration in high performance schools. School funding is at the heart of local, state and federal initiatives to make school facilities healthy and conducive to learning. As witnessed in the current California energy crisis, heating and cooling costs spare no facility or operation. The US Department of Energy (DoE) estimates that schools spend more than $6 billion annually on energy, and that they could save at least 25% of this amount through better design (even in renovated older buildings) through the use of energy-efficient and renewable energy technologies, and improvements in operations and maintenance. This will result in an overall savings of 1.5 billion dollars per year. DoE also estimates that school energy costs are approximately $110 per student per year, with costs of wastewater processing and trash removal adding to a total of $140 per student per year. High performance, sustainable design solutions can yield savings up to $56 per student per year. As an example of the savings possible, it is estimated that improved energy efficiency in 91 public school buildings in Pittsburgh will save over $750,000 per year. Given the uncertainty of energy markets, schools could be community leaders in reducing energy demand and increasing savings. The savings could be used toward physical facility improvement, reduction in class size, increased teacher salaries, and enhanced instruction. All schools, including those in distressed districts, should have the opportunity to realize these savings.
Environmental stewardship is another area where schools can play an important role. In a 1994 Roper Starch Worldwide Poll investigating young people’s attitudes toward the environment, commissioned the National Environmental Education and Training Foundation, it was found that students, both from disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged areas, feel that protection of human health is by far the most important reason for protection of the environment, but that it is also important to protect the environment for plants and animals. In order to bring students into understanding their own place in nature, schools need to emphasize methods of reducing the environmental impact of buildings on their surroundings. Reduction in energy use results in reduction in air pollution including particulates that cause lung disease and ozone pollution, as well as green house gas and acid deposition. Water conservation and appropriate land use are important aspects of environmental stewardship as well. Reduction in the use of toxics for cleaning and pest control is another contribution that schools can make as environmental stewards. If schools use their collective purchasing power toward pollution reduction in materials, energy, and maintenance, the overall cost savings could be great, as could the non-monetary value of modeling environmentally responsible practices for the community at large.
Increasingly, schools are seen as centers of life-long learning for the entire community, not just the kindergarten through high school years. A national movement integrating schools more closely with the community is growing. In a Department of Education April 2000 Publication “Schools as Centers of Community: A Citizens’ Guide for Planning and Design”, the following six principles assert that, in order to meet the nation’s needs for the 21st century, we must design learning environments that enhance teaching and learning to accommodate the needs of all learners
· Serve as centers of the community
· Result from a planning/design process involving all stakeholders
· Provide for health, safety and security
· Make effective use of all available resources
· Allow for flexibility and adaptability to changing needs.
In order to have the above principles become useful to most communities, much work needs to occur across the broad scope of community stakeholders in changing the way schools are renovated and built
Another important characteristic of healthy, “high performance”, energy-efficient schools, is the use of the school building and nearby physical environment as a pedagogical tool. Place-based learning and environmental teaching techniques are increasingly recognized as essential tools in increased retention of science, social science, mathematical and language arts skills. Students investigating the “ecological footprint” or impact of the school building use science and math to conduct measurements and audits of energy, materials and resource consumption, and apply social studies and language arts to propose and communicate strategies for reducing the impact. Teachers, once trained in this method find that it opens the door for critical thinking, transfer of problem solving skills to other academic frameworks and cooperative learning. Studies have shown that scores on standardized tests are increased by using environment as an integrating concept. Additionally, research done indicates that 96% of teachers and principals surveyed thought that school design was an important part of a good learning environment. Furthermore, 92% said that they would be willing to devote nearly 4 hours per week to collaborating with facility designers, but that most had never been asked.
The studies show that improved schools would improve our children’s health and their ability to learn and achieve. The technology exists to build and renovate these building to higher standards. Using high performance building techniques saves money and is fiscally responsible as well as environmentally responsible by saving energy and water and preventing pollution. The wisdom exists to implement policies to support our children’s health, and the greater community and environmental well-being. Governmental leaders can fully fund and support these measures that will yield results far beyond the federal investment. I appreciate this opportunity to speak with you today and hope that these federal governmental mandates will be funded in the near future.
 There are numerous studies, among them the following available on-line at ; ; ; and www.innovativedesign.net
 Conditions of American Public Schools Facilities. 1999 US Department of Education http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2000/2000032.pdf
 “High performance” is also used as a term for describing student academic performance. We believe that just as students are held to high standards, school buildings should be designed for similarly high standards of performance, with buildings contributing to student opportunities and outcomes.
 Press release January 15, 2002 in reference to The Healthy and High Performance Schools amendment to the newly signed federal education budget.
 ; ;
 America’s Children and the Environment: A first View of Available Measures, USEPA December 2000.
 US Department of Energy Rebuild America K-12 Program
 From 1993 to 1998, 146 schools in Canada decreased their greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of 10,000 tons of carbon dioxide.
 Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland cut its pest control costs from $2,400 per school per year in 1985 to $575 per year in 1992 by using Integrated Pest Management and less toxic alternatives.
 Improving Student Learning: Using the Environment as an Integrating Context. 1997. Gerald A. Lieberman, Ph.D. State Education and Environment Roundtable
 B. Schapiro and Associates “Perceptions of Educators about School Design Issues,” survey conducted for Heery International, Atlanta, GA. 1998. As seen in Harvard Education Letter. January/February 1999