Listen to this article here

Months after passing the largest infrastructure investment in U.S. history, the White House has launched efforts to improve public schools nationwide. Those efforts include honoring districts already building healthy schools, while committing $500 million to help more districts improve.

Mitch Landrieu, White House Infrastructure Coordinator, calls the investment “a down payment” on Biden’s promise to improve public schools.

“If kids don’t have healthy learning environments, then they can’t learn well, quite frankly,” Landrieu told The Black Wall Street Times in an interview. “This $500 million is a massive down payment on that commitment… to make sure our kids have a great opportunity.”

An estimated 36,000 schools across the nation are in need of significant repair. The funding from the bipartisan infrastructure bill will help school districts upgrade building ventilation, heating, cooling, energy efficiency and more.

“Right now,” Landrieu noted, these maintenance and updating costs are “the second largest expense public schools have.”

On April 4, the White House announced its first round of recognition for eight school districts across the country already leading the way in this effort.

School districts form California to South Carolina were honored as “best-in-class” in multiple categories.  The Efficient and Health Schools campaign, lead by the Departments of Energy, Education and the EPA, says the work these schools have done will “reduce energy bills and improve student and teacher health”.

Beyond improving learning environments, the investment also has the ability to transform student outcomes. Several studies conducted in the past few decades show better air quality in schools improves student attendance, behavior and outcomes.

Despite political divides, Landrieu says making public school buildings safer and healthier is something “all Americans can agree on”.

“I cannot think of a more unifying message than investing in fixing our public schools,” he said.

White House hopes historic investment will lead to more funding for public schools in the future

Landrieu’s seen the need for investment in public school infrastructure firsthand. He was elected mayor of New Orleans in 2010, just five years after the city was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

“Every school building [in the city] was pretty much destroyed [in Katrina],” Landrieu noted, “and before that they were in disrepair. It was just awful the conditions we were sending our kids to school in.”

New Orleans required more than $1.5 billion in federal support to rebuild and retrofit its schools after the disaster. That’s part of why Landrieu stresses this $500 million as a “down payment”.

He says President Biden wants to ensure this historic investment leads to more rounds of funding for public schools in the future.

“The president wants to demonstrate to members of Congress that this is a great thing to do, so let’s do more of it.”

Nate Morris moved to the Tulsa area in 2012 and has committed himself to helping build a more equitable and just future for everyone who calls the city home. As a teacher, advocate, community organizer...