THE BLOG
08/30/2013 01:47 pm ET | Updated Oct 30, 2013

Back to a Healthier, Safer School

For millions of kids, it's time to head back into the classroom. As communities everywhere prepare to send kids back to school for the year, we need to ask ourselves if these buildings are prepared to handle our kids. Would you want to send your kids somewhere that could be dangerous to their health?

Without hesitation, the answer to that question is no. Yet the current state of these institutions is severely inadequate, which hinders the resilience and prosperity of our communities and limits the potential of our broader educational system.

The average public school building in the United States is more than 40 years old, and many are much older. Our children are bearing the brunt of these crumbling buildings. More than 15,000 of them have air that was deemed unsafe to breathe, leading to chronic conditions such as asthma and causing our children to miss too many important days of class. According to the Center for Green Schools, the price tag for making necessary upgrades and repairs is more than $270 billion just to get elementary and secondary buildings back to their original conditions and twice that to actually get them up-to-date.

Concerns about air quality are one of many problems. Leaky ceilings, bad plumbing and extreme temperatures are not an uncommon occurrence. If we're going to treat our educational buildings like the incubators of progress that they are, we need to do better.

Making necessary upgrades so that all schools are green schools will allow us to meet the high standards necessary for a good education. We can start with basic upgrades and repairs. Officials at the Green Bay School Districts started thinking about the district's energy use in 2002. Since then, they have done a series of energy audits and made a number of energy-efficiency improvements that have helped the district save an estimated 46.5 million-kilowatt hours of energy and $9.7 million. More modifications like these will save communities billions and will allow us to spend more money hiring teachers and purchasing educational tools like computers.

A comprehensive plan to make necessary fixes would accomplish four important goals: make our educational institutions safer and healthier for children and teachers, create jobs in communities, improve education and save taxpayer money in the long run.

We can lift up these establishments as models of the clean, green, resilient environments we need at the heart of our efforts to rebuild a nation that is better able to address, prepare for and recover from the effects of climate change. We can put a skilled workforce into action to build better infrastructure that is smarter, safer and more efficient. We need buildings and systems that can withstand the test of time, as well as the extreme weather associated with a changing climate.

Programs such as the Department of Education's Green Ribbon Schools initiative are providing the right guidelines and incentives for communities. We need to make the most programs like this, as well as local efforts such as the Green Bay School District's. And we need to amplify voices like the American Federation of Teachers, who recognize the importance of whole-school health through their "Building Minds, Minding Buildings" initiative.

Students sitting in classrooms today are the future of the American economy. They will be the ones building, designing, teaching, selling, implementing and maintaining all the facets of industries that will drive the global economy. That's why, when it comes to educating our children, we must hold ourselves to a higher standard. Let's follow the advice of President Obama and build, "modern schools worthy of our children."