The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

New York lawmaker rolls out Green New Deal for public schools

Rep. Jamaal Bowman wants climate upgrades for the nation’s schools included in any Democratic spending package

Democratic candidate Jamaal Bowman speaks during his primary-night party in New York. (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/AP)

Freshman Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) will introduce an ambitious proposal on Friday to overhaul the nation’s public schools to meet the challenges of climate change.

Bowman hopes his $1.43 trillion measure will be adopted as part of a larger partisan spending package being assembled by House Democrats whose priorities were dropped from the bipartisan infrastructure deal embraced by President Biden.

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His Green New Deal for Public Schools calls for a $446 billion investment in the green retrofitting of public schools, along with major investments in the expansion of social services and a curriculum upgrade in school districts serving low-income communities. The money would be laid out over 10 years.

Grants distributed by a proposed Office of Sustainable Schools that would live within the Education Department and work with the Energy Department would foot the bill for schools to make energy efficient upgrades and electrifying facilities that would eliminate carbon emissions. The funding would also cover climate resilience efforts such as building out broadband infrastructure and EV charging stations, and garden and tree planting.

“Schools are the best epicenter to be leaders in what climate infrastructure should look like, in terms of sustainable energy, in terms of renewable energy, and in terms of energy sharing,” Bowman, a former middle-school principal, told The Washington Post in an interview.

“In terms of how we support the social, emotional and economic needs for students and families within a particular community to prepare for the challenges of climate change — our schools are not doing any of that at this moment.”

Bowman added the White House has been “very receptive and very excited” about his proposal that has “direct alignment” with the president’s pledge to slash greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030. Upon assuming office, Biden issued a directive for the government to spend 40 percent of sustainability investments on disadvantaged communities.

But Bowman is among the congressional liberals concerned that Biden may fall short of hitting his domestic climate goals after key climate-related measures were stripped from the $1 trillion infrastructure deal hammered out by a bipartisan group of senators. Senators also announced a $3.5 billion spending deal this week aimed at passing via maneuver known as reconciliation relying solely on Democratic votes.

That plan would put significant money toward incentivizing clean energy and creating electric vehicle charging stations nationwide — though few of its details have yet to be formally drafted. The measure would be funded with tax increases on the wealthy and corporations, and is a sweeping effort to remake the social safety net.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told reporters that members of the caucus are still gathering details but have been told that the group’s priorities will be included in the reconciliation deal. The caucus’s support “is not guaranteed until we see how our priorities fit into the framework,” Jayapal added.

The influential bloc of liberal lawmakers has adopted as a priority the $446 billion for the greening of schools from Bowman’s bill and wants to see it become part of any reconciliation plan. So far, the bill has garnered 22 co-sponsors, including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), and Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.). Bowman declined to say whether he supports the Senate’s early spending framework, but he expressed optimism that his schools proposal would be incorporated.

“It’s really important for us to see the details, to see what’s in [the reconciliation measure], what’s not in it, and to see where the money is being allocated,” Bowman said. “We are in ongoing negotiation and communication with leadership to ensure that provisions of this bill are included in reconciliation.”

Biden rallied Senate Democrats on Wednesday in support of both the infrastructure deal and reconciliation packages, pitching them both as he seeks to steer them through a 50-50 Senate. But Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) has already taken issue with climate provisions included in the reconciliation deal.

“You cannot be moving toward eliminating fossil [fuels],” Manchin told reporters “Hopefully we can come to an agreement that they understand fossil is going to play a part.”

Bowman’s proposal also calls for over $250 billion to reduce student-to-staff ratios in schools, expand the availability of social services like school psychologists and counselors for students, and upgrade curriculums tailored to local communities. The measure provides a $695 billion boost in funding for two key programs resulting in $66 billion annually for the Title I program to direct more money to high-poverty schools, along with a bump to $33 billion annually for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to further support students with disabilities.

A report released by the “climate + community project,” a research collaborative started at the University of Pennsylvania, forecast that Bowman’s proposal would fund 1.3 million jobs per year and eliminate 78 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually.

Bowman, who has become one of the most vocal critics of Manchin and called him the “new Mitch McConnell” over the West Virginia lawmaker’s initial opposition to a sweeping voting rights bill, issued a warning to him over climate-related language: “History will remember this moment.”

“You have parts of the country that are reaching 118 degrees, parts of the country have never been that hot, recent storms on the East Coast, massive flood and destruction of property — I mean, climate change is here, and it’s real,” Bowman said. “I encourage my colleagues to be on the right side of history. This about their legacy, and all of our legacies: How do we respond to the climate crisis that’s right in front of us? History will tell the story of who answered that question correctly.”