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Equitable Air Quality for All, and Funding for School Lunches

Equitable Air Quality for All

In August 2023, The New York Times covered the importance of air quality in our nation's schools—and the impact it has had on the pandemic. A 2020 analysis from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that, at the time, about 41% of school districts needed updated heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems in at least half of their schools—a factor that impacted the transmissibility of COVID. (The article also cites research from the Centers for Disease Control, showing that the incidence of COVID was about 40% lower in schools with higher air quality.) Beyond coronavirus, poor ventilation also has serious implications for students with asthma, a condition that disproportionately affects students of color

Here in Connecticut, the issue rose to prominence last summer, following a CT Insider investigation that revealed 80 out of 130 grant applications for air quality upgrades had been denied, despite the state’s HVAC grant having more than enough funding available. “Low-income districts received less funding, and those applications were rejected at a much higher rate than affluent communities,” the article read. Now, Connecticut’s legislature seems poised to respond. 

To date, the Education Committee has already advanced several bills that touch upon school air quality, including:

  1. Senate Bill 5, An Act Concerning School Resources - Among other issues, it would amend an existing statute regarding district maintenance of HVAC systems, requiring districts to update all of their maintenance records and keep the Department of Administrative Services apprised. This bill is a top Senate Democratic priority. 

  2. SB 287, An Act Concerning Indoor Air Quality in Schools - This bill would make district inspections and evaluations of HVAC systems a reimbursable expense under the state’s HVAC grant, and would extend the timeline for districts to complete these assessments.

  3. HB 5347, An Act Concerning Authorization of State Grant Commitments for School Building Projects and Revisions to the School building Projects Statutes - Section 17 would amend the state HVAC grant to make regional educational service centers, incorporated or endowed high schools or academies, and state charter schools eligible for funding. 

With respect to the latter, we think the prior exclusion of certain public schools of choice from state funding for air quality issues is a serious oversight and discriminatory. All students are equally entitled to a safe and clean learning environment. Don't miss testimony on this issue from Kara Neidhardt, Interim Executive Director of the CT Charter Schools Association, here.

Funding for School Lunches

The CT Examiner covered a press conference yesterday in which some Democratic legislators expressed their support for fully funding school meals across the state. Last year, Connecticut announced a $16M investment in American Rescue Plan dollars to expand Connecticut's free school meals program for the 2023-24 school year. But what about future years?

The Appropriations Committee heard testimony on a bill yesterday, HB 5510, which would appropriate funding in 2025 to the Department of Education to cover school breakfasts. According to testimony from Rep. Gary Turco, one in eight children in Connecticut suffers from hunger. Moreover, he wrote that, "Several states have already passed universal school meals, including our neighbor in Massachusetts." 

As the Hartford Courant’s Alison Cross reports today, however, some legislators—including Appropriations Committee Co-Chairs Senator Cathy Osten and Representative Toni Walker—have argued that the effort should be funded by unspent and expiring school and district resources from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund.

Free meals reduce stigmas associated with hunger, physical stresses that prevent focus, and family struggles associated with the high costs of food. Research has also shown that well-balanced meals improve concentration and comprehension. Simply put, it’s very hard for a child to learn at school while he or she is hungry. Whether funded through remaining COVID dollars or by the state, free meals are a worthy cause for Connecticut to consider. 

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