The U.S. House of Representatives on June 4 committed more than $20 billion over the next five years to help states build and renovate schools to make them more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly.
Democrats said the "21st Century Green High-Performing Public School Facilities Act" would save school districts billions of dollars in energy costs, while reducing asthma and other environmentally linked health problems. The White House threatened a veto, however, saying it’s wrong for the federal government to launch a costly new school building program.
The legislation passed 250-164 and now must be considered by the Senate.
The measure approves $6.4 billion for the 2009 budget year and similar sums in subsequent years to help school districts modernize facilities to improve the learning climate, promote student and teacher health, and make schools more energy efficient.
Projects would have to meet one of three widely recognized standards for building construction materials and energy sources: Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System, Energy Star, or Collaborative For High Performance Schools. Requirements for meeting the green standards would be phased in, but by 2013, 90 percent of the funds would have to be used for green projects.
Democratic supporters cited studies that a green school uses 35 percent less energy than a conventional school, reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent, uses 30 percent less water, and has better lighting and temperature controls that encourage student achievement.
The legislation, said House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Calif., will "not only save them energy, not only will make the facilities safer, cleaner, and better for the learning environment these children need–it will also dramatically change the cost of running a school district."
But Republicans, and the White House, saw the bill as a federal intrusion into education matters normally under the jurisdiction of states and local governments.
"The Democrats’ massive $20 billion ‘green scheme’ would place faceless Washington bureaucrats in charge of priorities historically and best handled by states and local school districts," said House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio. Other Republicans warned it would siphon off funds from federal programs for poor or disabled students.
The bill "would create an inappropriate and costly new federal role in modernizing and renovating public schools," the White House said in issuing its veto threat.
The White House also objected to a funding formula linking amounts that a state receives to Title I, the federal program for schools receiving aid for low-income students. No school under the formula would receive less than $5,000.
The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Ky., also approves federal funding of $100 million a year for five years for public schools in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama damaged by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
The bill is H.R. 3021.