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Heinrich Introduces Bill To Improve School Air Quality

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) introduced the Keeping Schools Safe Act, legislation that authorizes the Secretary of Education to award grants that allow elementary and secondary schools to improve indoor air quality using proven technologies and in an effort to reduce the transmission of COVID-19.

One path to aid in safely reopening schools and school districts across the country is to invest in air filtration, ventilation, and air purification technologies. However, the cost of these technologies is high.

Senator Heinrich’s Keeping Schools Safe Act would allow for a one-time authorization of $1 billion in grant funding that the U.S. Department of Education can distribute to school districts. This authorization will set aside 5 percent for Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools. The bill also ensures the Secretary prioritizes high-needs schools when awarding grants, while also ensuring geographic diversity among rural, urban, and suburban schools.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for schools and districts across the country. Educators are putting their health and safety on the line, working parents are struggling to balance childcare and at-home learning, and some students are facing technological disadvantages – creating setbacks in their education,” said Heinrich. “That is why I am introducing this legislation to provide elementary and secondary schools with funding to improve air quality and ventilation – putting them one step closer to safely reopening. If we follow the science and the evidence brought forth by leading public health officials, we can start taking real action and use proven, innovative technologies to create safe, learning environments.”

Specifically, the Keeping Schools Safe Act:

  • Instructs the Secretary of Education to provide schools and school districts with technical guidance to address the safety and health of students and staff, including guidance on:
    • Indoor, outdoor, or combined air or air pressure ventilation, filtration systems, or air cleaners.
    • Equipment, supplies, and technical services necessary to provide indoor environmental air quality in a manner that optimizes safety and health for children and staff while reducing viral transmission risks.
    • Making facility changes, repairs, and monitoring to address air filtration and ventilation.
  • The technical guidance shall be developed by the Centers of Disease Control and Preventions, organizations specializing in public health and infectious disease in children, organizations with expertise in ventilation building systems and standards development, and teachers unions.
  • Provides $1 billion in grants to school districts to improve the indoor air quality, ventilation, filtration, monitoring, and/or circulation, using the technical guidance, in response to the COVID–19 public health emergency. Grants will be awarded to school districts in the amount of $5,000 - $20,000,000. 
  • Ensures Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools have access to these funds through a 5 percent set aside.
  • Ensures the Secretary prioritizes high-needs schools when awarding grants, while also ensuring geographic diversity among rural, urban, and suburban schools.

In August, Senator Heinrich brought together engineering experts from the local New Mexico chapter of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and ASHRAE’s Epidemic Task Force for a discussion on air decontamination in schools and businesses.

Senator Heinrich worked with ASHRAE, the National Education Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics to develop this legislation.

“Providing acceptable indoor air quality is an essential building service and I am heartened to see that Senator Heinrich’s legislation recognizes the importance of buildings and their HVAC systems in minimizing the risk of coronavirus spread in some of our most important buildings: our schools. I am also pleased this legislation would require the Secretary of Education to consult with organizations such as ASHRAE to develop technical guidance for using these funds. With ASHRAE’s 125 years of experience in standards development for the built environment, we welcome the opportunity to provide consultation to reduce viral risks and improve the health and well-being of students and staff,” said ASHRAE President Charles E. Gulledge III, P.E.

“New Mexico is proud to be a national leader in advocating for the highest quality indoor air environment possible for our students and staff. We thank the Senator for introducing this critical bill to unlock much needed funding for schools to make the HVAC systems upgrades necessary to protect the health and safety of our children, our educators and our communities,” said New Mexico Secretary of Education Ryan Stewart.

Read the full text of the bill here.