School & District Management

A New Federal Grant Will Fund Schools’ Energy Upgrades. Here’s What to Know

By Evie Blad — November 29, 2022 3 min read
A small white space heater directs air under a teacher's desk. On the front of the desk is a sign that says "Welcome to our classroom."
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The U.S. Department of Energy has announced the first round of a new grant that will fund energy improvements in schools.

The Renew America’s Schools grant program provides a total of $500 million in funding. The first round of grants will provide up to $80 million for schools to install energy efficient lighting and HVAC systems, improve the insulation of their buildings, switch to electric vehicles, and convert facilities to renewable energy sources like solar and wind.

The grant program was included in the $1 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that President Joe Biden signed Nov. 15. While it touches on key priorities of green building advocates, the grant falls far short of the $100 billion in new federal funding for school infrastructure Biden originally proposed.

The Energy Department “is working diligently to deploy these critical funds so that schools can start turning infrastructure improvements into healthier learning environments and big cost savings, as soon as possible,” U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm said in a statement Tuesday.

Here’s what you need to know.

Aging buildings cost school districts big bucks

Many district leaders say school energy improvements aren’t a “nice-to-have.” Aging buildings and neglected, inefficient systems lead them to sink funding into utilities instead of directing it into the classroom.

And school building quality can affect student learning. In some districts, extreme heat led to repeated missed days of school in August. And climate experts expect that pattern to continue to worsen as warming trends affect parts of the country where air conditioning isn’t a standard building feature.

Just how neglected are school facilities? Here are some key findings from a June 2020 report by the Government Accountability Office.

You can read more about those concerns, and gaps in state funding for school facilities projects, in this story from the Education Week archives.

Schools have other sources of funds for facilities upgrades

The Energy Department said Tuesday that, in awarding the first round of energy efficiency funding, it will prioritize districts “that qualify as rural and/or high poverty.” School districts must apply for the competitive grant funding, described as a “first-of-its-kind” program by the agency.

But the new funding might not go very far, considering the scale of the need.

In 2021, Education Week profiled a district that had a $30 million backlog in facilities projects. And that’s not an uncommon occurrence. In Baltimore, officials have estimated it could cost more than $15 million to upgrade a single school’s HVAC system.

In addition to the new energy department funding, school districts can also spend federal COVID relief aid provided through the American Rescue Plan on facilities projects. Such plans have presented challenges, though, as the money comes with a 2024 spending deadline and education leaders juggle continuing shortages of labor and materials.

Schools have a big energy footprint

Making large buildings like schools more energy efficient doesn’t just make good financial sense; it will also help address the climate crisis, green building advocates say.

Schools are the second largest sector of U.S. infrastructure, the Department of Energy said. Every year, the nation’s schools emit as much carbon as 18 coal plants or 8 million homes, according to an analysis by the advocacy group Generation180, which supports renewable energy. (There are about 129,000 K-12 schools in the United States.)

Experts have recommended a variety of strategies for school districts that want to tackle the challenge. You can read about them in Education Week’s ongoing series on schools and climate change.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Classroom Technology Webinar
How to Leverage Virtual Learning: Preparing Students for the Future
Hear from an expert panel how best to leverage virtual learning in your district to achieve your goals.
Content provided by Class
English-Language Learners Webinar AI and English Learners: What Teachers Need to Know
Explore the role of AI in multilingual education and its potential limitations.
Education Webinar The K-12 Leader: Data and Insights Every Marketer Needs to Know
Which topics are capturing the attention of district and school leaders? Discover how to align your content with the topics your target audience cares about most. 

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Explainer What Does a School Principal Do? An Explainer
Learn about the principal workforce, what makes principals effective, and how schools can retain the best leaders.
Image of staffing.
Andrii Yalanskyi/iStock/Getty
School & District Management Running for a School Board Seat? This Is the Most Powerful Endorsement You Can Get
New research shows that this endorsement in school board races is more influential than any other, with virtually no downside.
5 min read
People in privacy booths vote in the midterm election at an early voting polling site at Frank McCourt High School on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City on Nov. 1, 2022.
People in privacy booths vote in the midterm election at an early voting polling site at Frank McCourt High School on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City on Nov. 1, 2022.
Ted Shaffrey/AP
School & District Management High Pace of Superintendent Turnover Continues, Data Show
About one in five large districts lost a superintendent last year, researchers found.
2 min read
Image of exit doors.
School & District Management Finding the Source of PCB Contamination in Schools Just Got Easier
Researchers say they have found a promising method to determine where in school buildings the PCB contamination is greatest.
7 min read
Image of a brick wall and glass blocks.