July 2023 Infrastructure and Sustainability News

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July 2023

Infrastructure and Sustainability Updates from the U.S. Department of Education

The U.S. Department of Education (ED or the Department) developed this newsletter to provide resources, promote events, and share inspiring stories of school sustainability. The Department also maintains resources on the Green Strides School Sustainability Resource Hub, including upcoming webinars and information on U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools honorees. 

In this issue:

In the News

Renew Americas Schools 2023 Grant Recipients

Department of Energy Announces Renew America's Schools Grant Recipients 

On June 29, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced 24 selectees for the first round of funding from the Renew America’s Schools grant. This competitive award is part of the $500 million Renew America’s Schools program, which aims to help K-12 public schools across the country make energy improvements that lower utility costs, reduce emissions, and create healthier learning environments for students and teachers. Funded projects will increase energy efficiency while improving indoor air quality, reducing community exposures to pollution, improving occupancy comfort, and providing better lighting. DOE received 236 submissions from Local Education Agencies across 44 states, totaling $1.62 billion in requests. In response to high demand and overwhelming evidence of need, DOE doubled the funds available in the first round of the competition from $80 million to $178 million. DOE anticipates releasing a second round of funding in Spring 2024. 

IRS logo

IRS Releases Guidance for Energy Tax Provisions of Climate Legislation

The IRS released proposed guidance on elective pay, also known as direct pay, and transferability mechanisms established under the Inflation Reduction Act that allow applicable entities, including school districts, non-profits, and local governments, to access clean energy tax credits. Elective pay allows applicable entities that would otherwise be unable to claim tax credits, because they do not owe federal income tax, to benefit from clean energy tax credits. Because of the Inflation Reduction Act, a school district that makes a clean energy investment that qualifies for the investment tax credit can file a tax return with the IRS to claim elective pay for the full value of the investment tax credit, as long as it meets the requirements. Check out the local governments' fact sheet, Frequently Asked Questions about these proposed provisions for comment, and learn how your school district can benefit.

Announcing the School Infrastructure and Sustainability Commitments!

Since February, the Department has invited national, regional, and local non-profits, foundations, businesses, and community-based organizations to share their bold commitments to advance school sustainability, encompassing infrastructure, health, environmental sustainability education, climate, and environmental justice in America. Over 30 organizations made commitments, ranging from local efforts to national campaigns. These commitments demonstrate the wide range and scope of actions needed to ensure sustainable schools for all students. 

Thank you (1)

The ED School Infrastructure and Sustainability Commitments are a part of the Department's initiative to promote school infrastructure and sustainability through multiple communications and outreach tools designed to share best practices and connect schools with partnerships and resources.

Some National Commitments:

Green Schoolyards America will help schools create schoolyard forests that will shade and protect students from extreme heat due to climate change, prioritizing schools in underserved communities.

National Environmental Education Foundation and its partners plan to invest in environmental education and literacy through annual Greening STEM grants nationwide.

This Is Planet Ed will increase awareness about opportunities for schools to leverage funding to reduce their carbon footprint, adapt to the impacts of climate change, support teaching and learning about climate solutions, and foster healthy and safe learning environments.

Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association, Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, and National Energy Management Institute are partnering to assist schools to improve their existing HVAC infrastructure and build capacity for new HVAC infrastructure, while improving energy efficiency and climate mitigation and adaptation in schools.

Green Schools Alliance is working collaboratively with schools to provide the tools and resources they need to make measurable progress towards whole school sustainability.

Some Regional and Local Commitments:

Climate Generation will host 14 green career professionals local to their area, who will share their climate stories and personal pathways to their profession. Teachers will be trained in a curriculum that supports students’ development of the technical and adaptive skills needed to build a green economy. 

Ten Strands will bring teachers and students open education resources to help promote understanding of climate change and environmental justice.

Alliance for a Better Community will develop a curriculum to develop and support a cohort of environmental health parent community leaders.

Read more of the commitments made in this blog and on our website. Please note that the deadline to submit commitments has been extended to July 21. *Commitments are edited for brevity.

Commitments Extended Deadline

Resources and Opportunities

students conducting water quality studies

EPA Invites Youth to Serve on Agency's First-Ever National Environmental Youth Advisory Council

In June, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the establishment of the agency’s first-ever National Environmental Youth Advisory Council (NEYAC). The NEYAC will provide independent advice and recommendations to Administrator Michael Regan on how to increase EPA’s efforts to address a range of environmental issues as they relate to youth communities. All members of NEYAC will be between the ages of 16 and 29 and at least 50% of the overall membership of NEYAC will come from, reside primarily in, and/or do most of their work in disadvantaged communities. Applications for the 16 vacancies are due Aug. 22.

SIP Announcement

ED School Infrastructure Grants Seek Peer Reviewers

The Department recently announced two new infrastructure grants to build capacity and equity in K-12 public school facilities and grounds. Read more about the Supporting America's School Infrastructure and National Center on School Infrastructure grants in this blog. ED is now seeking peer reviewers with a background in school infrastructure, sustainability, or financing for these grant competitions. The Department expects to begin its virtual grant competition peer review in August 2023, which will include a training webinar as well as two to four conferences, depending on the number of applications received. Reviewers are compensated for their time based on the number of applications scored. If you are interested in serving as a peer reviewer, please consult the FY 2023 Call for Peer Reviewers for directions on submitting your application by July 14.

Get to Know the 2023 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools

Below, we spotlight four of the 2023 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School Honorees (ED-GRS). You can learn more about the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) in our annual Highlights Report and on our website.

huntley community school district 158 recycling

Huntley Community School District 158; Algonquin, Illinois

The vision of sustainability and environmental awareness that has come to define Huntley Community School District 158 (Huntley 158) began nearly 14 years ago. In fall 2020, Huntley 158 “flipped the switch” on the largest solar energy installation on school district property in Illinois. Within the food services department, Huntley 158 has implemented food-sharing tables, recycling and liquid waste sorting stations, bulk condiment stations, reusable trays, and has eliminated milk straws. Students and staff receive lessons and professional development that focus on tools to regulate behavioral and emotional wellness. Students in grades K-12 participate in diverse curriculum offerings that are based on ecology, socio-political knowledge, environmental issues, problem-solving skills, environmentally responsible behaviors, and hands-on experiences.

watershed public charter school outdoor learning

Watershed Public Charter School; Windsor Mill, Maryland

Watershed Public Charter School (Watershed) in Baltimore County takes its role as the only nature-based public school in the county seriously. Watershed students grow into environmental stewards who assume leadership on environmental sustainability efforts at the school, including by monitoring building water and electricity usage. Despite an increase in enrollment from 2019 to 2022, Watershed reduced its energy use by over 42% and water consumption by 60% over that period. It has also cut solid waste in half since 2019, in part by implementing a comprehensive composting program, a share table, and trash-free lunches. Thanks to two large cisterns, harvested rainwater is used for irrigation purposes for the school micro-farm and gardens. Faculty make use of five outdoor classrooms, including stream, two micro-farm, rain garden, and meadow classrooms.

shades mountain elementary school track

Shades Mountain Elementary School; Hoover, Alabama

When Shades Mountain Elementary School (SMES) students were concerned about their carbon footprint, school officials and Alabama Power partnered with them to complete an audit of the school’s HVAC, insulation, and lighting. Based on the results of this audit, SMES updated its building automation system and installed a new cooling tower. In 2022, SMES worked with parents and local partners to design and install an outdoor space complete with nature trails, a butterfly garden, rain barrel water collection, and raised garden beds. At SMES, classroom units are equipped with outside air dampers, and the school’s maintenance personnel implement integrated pest management and purchase green cleaning products. SMES has Safe Pedestrian Routes and a no idling policy, and buses are equipped with diesel particulate filters. Students in K-5 experience an immersive curriculum, integrating math, science, and technology, that includes outdoor learning activities in the pollinator and vegetable gardens and schoolwide citizen science learning. 

Unified school district of de pere watershed education

Unified School District of De Pere; De Pere, Wisconsin

The Unified School District of De Pere (USDD) emphasizes resource conservation by opting for clean energy when upgrading HVAC systems, including geothermal and passive solar energy sources; prioritizing stormwater management in the application of ice treatments and outdoor athletic complex enhancements; and replacing outdoor light fixtures with LED lighting. Schools promote active transportation with bike to school days and bike rodeos. Therapy dogs provide unconditional support for students needing a calming friend, numerous schools partner with Fuel Up to Play 60 to engage elementary students as leaders in nutrition and fitness, and USDD regularly offers kickboxing and yoga classes for staff. Through a unique partnership with five other school districts and Cooperative Educational Service Agency 6, the jointly funded 450-acre Fallen Timbers Environmental Education Center provides students with rich environmental education field and classroom opportunities. 


Green Strides Design

Take Advantage of the Ongoing Green Strides Webinar Series 

The Green Strides Webinar Series has promoted over 3,000 sessions that provide free tools to reduce schools’ environmental impact and costs, improve health and wellness, and teach effective environmental education. Consult the webinar calendar, and submit suggestions for listing additional free, publicly available webinars related to school, district, and postsecondary sustainability to ed.green.ribbon.schools@ed.gov. (Note: All times listed are ET.)

July 12, 11:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. Litter Hurts All Creatures Great & Small (Keep America Beautiful)

July 12, 2–3 p.m. Campus Sustainability’s Secret Sauce - Athletes (AASHE)

July 19, 12–1 p.m. Developing Offshore Wind in US Waters (OCTO/NOAA)

July 20, 12–1 p.m. Federal Funding for Equipment Installation or Replacement at K-12 Schools (Center for Green Schools/AASA)

July 25, 2–3 p.m. Monarch Conservation: Solar Energy and Pollinator Habitat (FWS)

July 26, 2–3 p.m. Funding Opportunities from DOE to Advance Climate Solutions (AASHE)

July 27, 2–3:15 p.m. Youth Development & Nature Connection Framework (Children & Nature Network)


K-12 Facilities Forum Panel Federal Funding for School Facilities

K-12 Facilities Forum is Nov. 12-14 in Austin

K-12 Facilities Forum began as an annual event with the goal of connecting and informing K-12 facilities leaders and business administrators involved in all aspects of planning, design, construction, and operations. Since then, it has evolved into a community that unites the industry through in-person gatherings, digital roundtables, webcasts, and custom content. The Forum is a time for K-12 facilities leaders and industry partners to connect, collaborate, and share ideas and best practices. Learn about federal funding opportunities at the K-12 Facilities Forum in Austin, Texas this fall.

VP Denver Quote

On June 16, Vice President Harris – joined by Deputy Secretary of Education Cindy Marten – offered remarks at Northfield High School in Denver, underscoring the Administration’s historic investment in creating a clean energy economy. The Vice President congratulated the youth climate leaders of Denver Public Schools and encouraged other students to take similarly bold action to urge their school districts to become part of the climate solution.