WASHINGTON — Recent studies have found that climate change disrupts the education of 40 million students a year. Due to environmental disasters like the Maui wildfires and deteriorating infrastructure, those numbers are only expected to go up. For Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), a former public school teacher, this is an unacceptable reality.
“Our public schools are literally falling apart across the country. Children are going to school with lead in the water,” said Bowman.
On Thursday, Bowman, alongside Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), relaunched the Green New Deal for Public Schools. The bill aims to reduce public school carbon emissions to zero by running on renewable energy sources. Schools would receive green retrofits, such as community gardens and labs, to teach about sustainability, science, and technology. Schools would be able to hire more teachers and staff while reducing class sizes. The bill would also prioritize low-income schools for these upgrades.
The bill is co-sponsored by more than 70 House lawmakers. At a press conference on Thursday, Bowman and Markey were joined by several other representatives, including Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). All of them stressed the urgency of the climate crisis and the importance of a bold response.
“In these halls, the definition of cost is different than the rest of our country,” Rep. Frost said. “For them, cost is just dollars and cents, but for us, cost is human life.”
Frost represents Florida, which he describes as one of the states most vulnerable to climate change. Just last month, extreme temperatures and a lack of proper ventilation closed over 1800 public schools across the state. Reps. Bowman, Velázquez and Schakowsky are also former teachers.
Bowman said the bill presents a holistic solution to the deterioration of schools – focusing not just on climate, but on health, safety, and the well-being of students.
According to Bowman, the proposal is estimated to cost $1.6 trillion over 10 years. He said the funding would come from taxes on the uber-wealthy and corporations, as well as a redistribution of funds from the defense budget to education.
“Our budget is a reflection of our values. And our values for several decades have been rooted in mass incarceration, gun violence, imperialism, and self-destruction,” said Bowman. “It’s time for a new American revolution where our values are rooted in our children, in education, and a love for humanity.”
House Republicans have said the Green New Deal will only hurt the country further. “This Green New Deal monstrosity increased inflation, imposed new taxes on energy cost and drove energy prices higher,” Rep. Ted Cruz (D-Fla) tweeted this month. However, no version of the Green New Deal has been passed thus far.
This message has garnered national support from teachers’ unions. “These are the investments we must make to make every public school in America a safe, welcoming and joyful place where educators are respected and supported, parents are happy to send their kids, and students thrive,” said Randi Weingarten, the President of the American Federation of Teachers.
And, according to research from the University of Pennsylvania, the bill would make a significant impact on schools. This legislation would eliminate 78 million metric tons of CO2 annually and fund 1.3 million jobs annually.
“Young people might be only 20% of our population, but they are 100% of our future,” said Sen. Markey.