editorial | Our city can fix New York’s schools and create thousands of union jobs

The majority of school buildings in our country are at least 50 years old. Think about it: the classrooms and other school facilities where our children spend hours, five days a week, are in desperate need of renovations to deal with issues such as leaky roofs, broken air conditioning, mold issues. or mold and poor air quality. quality.

Here in New York, the situation is even worse: the average age of our school buildings is 70 years old.

It’s a crisis for our students, and it’s especially acute in communities of color that have endured generations of underinvestment. The environment in which our students learn affects everything from their test scores to their health and well-being. Old and dilapidated school buildings rely on outdated equipment, throwing tons of carbon emissions into the air. Taxpayers must pay millions of dollars in energy costs, which are the second highest costs for schools nationally after staff. We need to get the situation under control before it’s too late.

Fortunately, earlier this week the White House announced the Biden-Harris Action Plan for Building Better School Infrastructure, a $500 million grant program that will allow states and cities to invest in green renovations that improve energy efficiency, air quality and health outcomes. students across the country. Importantly, these projects will create hundreds of thousands of new, quality union jobs across the country, connecting public schools to union careers that will support strong communities and a fair economy for all.

With this groundbreaking federal program in place, New York can lead the way. That’s why here in our state, a coalition of unions formed Climate Jobs NY to advance a pro-worker, pro-climate agenda — a coalition that has grown to represent 2.6 million workers across all sectors of the New York economy.

Across our state, we’re organizing behind ambitious plans to make New York a clean energy and fair economy that creates pathways to good union jobs in communities of color, immigrant communities and other disadvantaged populations. serviced by our city. Last year, Climate Jobs NY and major unions representing teachers, building service workers, cafeteria workers and others working in the school system launched a centerpiece of these efforts – the Carbon Initiative. Free and Healthy Schools, calling for a paradigm shift for all New York City public schools with green infrastructure.

We believe our work is absolutely imperative to achieving racial justice in all five boroughs because the crumbling buildings of our schools are not evenly distributed. Right now, many of the public schools that educate our most underserved students are the ones most in need of repair. If our city is truly committed to addressing racial and economic inequality, our leaders must recognize that students of color attend schools with inadequate HVAC and ventilation systems, faulty windows and doors, and decaying roofs. – and they need to take action to fix it.

Currently, one in four classrooms in New York City has no air conditioning, which creates an unhealthy learning environment during the hot months. A major investment in the Carbon Free and Healthy Schools initiative would represent significant progress in reversing decades of neglect.

We also know that the COVID-19 pandemic has been deeply traumatic for many students and teachers, forcing many of us to reinvent our approach to education, public health, and our responsibility to one another. There is no better way to demonstrate our commitment to the health of our next generation than by investing in safe and healthy schools.

It’s time to build the schools of the future: safe, healthy and carbon-free. If successful, we’ll eliminate 75,000 tons of carbon emissions from our schools, save tens of millions of public dollars, and create thousands of union jobs in the process — giving students of color a direct pipeline from their public schools to jobs that support careers and families. And we can send a clear signal to Washington and other states and cities across the country: investments in the fight against climate change can simultaneously be investments in our students and their health.

Given this moment, too much is at stake and we can’t wait to act. Leaders across the country, including President Biden, understand that. Carbon Free and Healthy Schools represents a unique opportunity for all New York City public school children, regardless of zip code, to access modern, carbon-free schools.

Mayor Adams can forge his legacy in his first year by making a big investment in our children’s future and mitigating climate change. With thousands of committed working-class New Yorkers and a national network of climate activists behind him, now is the time for Mayor Adams to address our climate crisis and our city’s long-standing inequalities by building a safe New York school system for this generation and the next.