Right now, schools have a rare opportunity to focus on their facilities. The American Rescue Plan and 2021 Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act provided tens of billions of dollars for American schools, including funds that can be used for health-and sustainability-focused facility upgrades.

The funds were made available by the federal government, but they are administered through the states. This means every state has its own approach to distributing the money and tracking how it’s spent, so restrictions will vary across the board. However, since every school district is unique, the American Rescue Plan was designed to allow school districts across the nation to invest in the improvements that fit their unique needs.

While indoor air quality and cleaning priorities change drastically based on population size, building age, humidity levels, location and a host of other factors, the plan’s funding is flexible enough to address various concerns and make schools safer and healthier for all students. From hand sanitizer and cleaning equipment to air filters, HVAC systems and floor maintenance equipment, every facility has different priorities for upgrading their existing protocols and custodial programs, yet all of these items have been purchased by different school districts using funds provided by the American Rescue Plan.

Very few items that make schools healthier are excluded from this funding, so schools with differing needs (for example, schools that are located in Florida and Maine) can each uniquely improve the health and sustainability of their campuses.

A Standard Protocol

How can schools stretch these dollars for greatest impact? That's the question that the Healthy Schools Campaign and Green Seal set out to answer; ultimately creating a joint program called Healthy Green Schools & Colleges.

School and university facility management professionals make daily decisions that affect health, safety and sustainability, but budget realities mean they often lack proper funding and resources for the essential work they do caring for students and staff. What is lacking is a national standard for implementing and measuring facility management improvements that make the biggest differences in indoor air quality and environmental sustainability, without demanding major capital investments.

We worked with award-winning K-12 and university facility directors to develop such a standard, along with the resources and tools to help facility managers start to achieve it. As the first national standard for healthy and sustainable school facilities, it helps facility professionals point to a science-based third-party benchmark when explaining the improvements they are making to processes and procedures. It also enables staff to better communicate about the health and safety measures that students, staff, parents and administrators care about.

The program covers the full range of facilities management practices, from cleaning, disinfection and indoor air quality monitoring to HVAC maintenance, sustainable purchasing and integrated pest management. First, a self-assessment tool allows schools to objectively measure their current indoor environmental health and sustainability performance, while guidebooks, trainings and tools help facility professionals determine and take the next steps.

Then, the standard's points-based scoring system encourages schools to keep improving at their own pace, with support from a network of facility management peers across the country who are on a similar journey. Schools that reach the top level of achievement can apply for third-party certification, earning public recognition for their verified expertise in providing healthy school environments.

Healthy Green Schools & Colleges is designed to be accessible for schools across the spectrum, whether they are just getting started exploring environmental health and sustainability improvements or are already a leader. The program provides school facility leaders with the education and resources to transform the health and sustainability of their school and university environments, and the funds made available by the American Rescue Plan allow more school districts and universities to address their most pressing concerns.

Ultimately, the way that schools manage their facilities speaks to how they value their students, staff and surrounding communities. While school facilities face a number of challenges today, all campuses have the ability to continuously improve — making facilities progressively safer, healthier and more sustainable every school year. We are committed to providing school facility professionals with the resources and network to ensure a quality of school facility that every student in America deserves.

Sara Porter serves a dual role as both the Vice President of External Affairs at Healthy Schools Campaign (HSC) and the Director of Healthy Green Schools & Colleges, a partnership between HSC and Green Seal. Sara joined HSC in 208 and has worked on the organization's green cleaning efforts ever since. In her role as director of Healthy Green Schools & Colleges, Sara has led the team through the designing and building of this new program from stakeholder engagement to standard development, from program design to corporate fundraising. Sara builds and maintains relationships with many external partners, oversees corporate fundraising and serves on the HSC management team.

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