WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and U.S. Representative Katherine Clark (D-MA) today introduced the Clean Air, Sharp Minds Act, aimed at improving the air quality in schools by providing grants to schools to purchase, install, and maintain commercial air filters. While a number of studies have shown the negative impact of air pollution on cognitive performance, evidence also exists demonstrating the dramatic extent to which student performance could be improved by installing air filters in schools. In 2016, test scores at 18 public schools in Los Angeles improved dramatically after commercial air filters were installed in every classroom, office, and common area (controlling for student demographics). These gains nearly matched the impact of reducing class sizes by a third, and persisted the following year.
The grant program outlined in the bill would invest $20 million over a three-year trial period and would be co-administered by the Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency. All public schools would be eligible for the grants, with priority given to schools located in highly polluted areas. The bill would finance the installation of air filters in at least 175 schools across the country.
Students of color are disproportionately burdened by the negative impacts of air pollution. Nearly one in six schools serving largely students of color are next to major roads – three times the rate of schools serving predominantly white students. Poor indoor air quality increases the risk of severe asthma attacks and allergic reactions, and asthma is the leading cause of missed school days in the U.S. This is especially pertinent for cities like Newark, where nearly one in four children suffer from asthma – triple the national average.
“I can tell you first-hand the devastating impacts that asthma has on kids and their families,” Booker said. “In Newark, we have one of the highest rates of child asthma in the country and this impacts not just our children’s physical health, it impacts their academic performance and their family’s economic well-being. While we need to be doing much more to reduce air pollution nationally and ensure our schools – especially those serving predominantly students of color – are not placed in high pollution areas near major roads and highways, this bill is a common-sense way to deliver immediate help to students and their parents struggling every day with poor air quality in their schools.”
“In Massachusetts, over 40% of children missed school due to asthma in the last year. This is unacceptable,” Congresswoman Clark said. “Our children should not have to worry about something as simple as access to clean air. By installing air filters in our classrooms, we can improve the health, academic performance, and attendance of our kids, particularly those from vulnerable communities, who are disproportionately affected by pollution. This bill provides a simple, powerful, and immediate solution to ensure our students have what they need to succeed and thrive in school.”
"No one should have to breathe polluted air, but for children, air pollution is especially harmful," said Molly Rauch, Public Health Policy Director, Moms Clean Air Force. "Not only can it cause asthma and other respiratory problems, but it also interferes with learning. As moms, we support protecting children where they spend most of their days -- inside school buildings."
“Every child deserves a healthy and safe school environment, no matter their zip code or family income. Unfortunately, we know that too many children in communities across the country are exposed to dirty air both outside and inside the classroom,” said Terry McGuire, Senior Legislative Representative, Earthjustice. “Earthjustice applauds Senator Booker and Representative Clark for introducing the Clean Air Sharp Minds Act, which will help further demonstrate the importance of clean air for kids’ developing brains. We must seek out every opportunity to deliver healthier classrooms and communities, and we look forward to continuing to work together to advance solutions that protect kids and help them live up to their fullest potential.”
“Clean air in our schools is critical to Hispanic and other underserved families,” said Elena Rios, MD, MSPH, FACP, President & CEO of the National Hispanic Medical Association. “The Clean Air Sharp Minds Act will decrease asthma and other respiratory disease and decrease absenteeism resulting in more productive students.”
“Providing the best-possible learning environment for our children is a no-brainer. That includes making sure all children have safe, clean air in the classrooms, no matter where they live and learn,” said John Walke, Clean Air Director, Natural Resources Defense Council. “The Clean Air Sharp Minds Act is a smart step toward delivering on that promise.”
“We appreciate and support Sen. Booker’s and Rep. Clark’s leadership to help children in schools across the country benefit from cleaner air in their classrooms,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Midwest-based Environmental Law & Policy Center. “As part of the Environmental Law & Policy Center’s ongoing engagement with community partners to measure air quality in Chicago, we have mapped 29 public schools close to interstate highways.”
“All of us who commit to helping each student reach their greatest potential recognize the need to focus on student wellness as an essential condition of a high-quality education. Yet we know the poor air quality in many neighborhoods and school buildings sets an invisible but all-too-real obstacle to learning,” said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. “We are grateful to Sen. Booker and Rep. Clark for drawing both attention and funding to this crucial issue, and we hope the discoveries made through the Clean Air Sharp Minds bill will accelerate our federal investment in modern, safe, and healthy learning environments for all students.”
"Air pollution impacts our communities and the health impacts are often self-evident. Not as well documented is that air pollution hurts student performance dramatically inside the classroom. Our schools should give every student an equal shot at success -- but recent research shows that every whiff of dirty air you breathe in hurts academic success," Doug O'Malley, Director of Environment New Jersey, said. "Senator Booker has been an environmental justice leader in the Senate and the Clean Air Sharp Minds Act provides a path forward to keep the air in our classrooms clean. Fighting air pollution is most important to give students equal opportunity."
“In Newark our schools are often located near polluting industries, under the flight path of planes and next to diesel truck routes,” said Maria Lopez-Nunez, Director of Environmental Justice and Community Development, Ironbound Community Corporation. “Funding for air filtration in neighborhoods disproportionately impacted by pollution is long overdue. We hope this is the first of many steps in protecting our children’s health.”
The Clean Air, Sharp Minds Act is endorsed by the following organizations: AASA – the School Superintendents Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, Clean Water Action New Jersey, Earthjustice, Environment New Jersey, the Environmental Law & Policy Center, Ironbound Community Corporation, Moms Clean Air Force, the NAACP New Jersey State Conference, the National Association of School Nurses, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Black Child Development Institute, the National Black Nurses Association, the National Hispanic Medical Association, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the New Jersey Education Association, and SHAPE America.