Strong schools mean healthy recovery from current crises

Illustration of school children, education and the pandemic. (Photo: Felipe Sanchez, via Shutterstock)

California is dealing with cascading crises the likes of which have never been experienced before.

Between February 2020 and today, California’s unemployment rate rose from a record low of 3.9% to 13.3%. Nearly two million Californians who were working then aren’t working now.

And California’s clean energy economy — which employed 3% of the state’s workforce before COVID-19 — has also taken a hit.  At the end of 2019, clean energy firms like mine employed over 530,000 Californians, including 30% of all construction workers in the state; through August, nearly 85,000 of those Californians are unemployed.

To get parents back to work, we must get kids back to school…

COVID-19 has also strained our resources, driving a dramatic drop in state tax revenue and substantial unexpected expenditures for testing, masking and protective equipment for healthcare workers. And now, the fires — a symptom of climate change and historic in scope and damage — will tax California’s budget further.

To get Californians back to work, we must make strategic investments that will not only help guide us out of the coronavirus crisis, but also the climate crisis. To get parents back to work, we must get kids back to school, but safely, ensuring this does not exacerbate the spread of COVID-19.

To meet such needs, the state is tasked with finding innovative solutions that can create jobs without accessing new money, improve conditions in schools while protecting their budgets, and creating careers in clean energy sectors that help cut climate pollution.

It’s a tall order, but AB 841, which passed out of the state legislature with bipartisan support and now waits for the Governor’s signature, does just that.

AB 841 is about healthy schools and a strong, clean air recovery. This bill leverages a core sector of the state’s economy with a strong track record of stimulating economic recovery — clean energy — to address two pressing needs.

A lack of charging infrastructure has long held California back from achieving important goals reducing health-harming climate pollution from cars and trucks.

The first part of the bill would move a one-time allocation of unspent energy efficiency funds to put Californians to work today repairing faulty HVAC systems in empty schools to improve efficiency and help reduce the spread of coronavirus when children return. That means investing in local economies and healthier air in classrooms for years to come. It would also ensure cleaner drinking water in schools by replacing old, inefficient water fixtures.

What’s more, the bill starts with schools most in need of investment, beginning in low-income communities that have long been under-resourced. These efficiency improvements will deliver cleaner indoor air while also generating long-term savings for schools – which means more money to support students.

The second part of the bill charts a path forward to remedy another critical challenge facing California by fast tracking jobs for Californians who are ready and eager to get back to work building electric vehicle charging infrastructure that will help reduce air pollution in communities across the state.

A lack of charging infrastructure has long held California back from achieving important goals reducing health-harming climate pollution from cars and trucks. AB 841 helps the Public Utility Commission put these projects back on track at a time when these workers most need an income. But it’s not just about the money; it’s about building a brighter future. Thanks to the bill’s innovative job training programs and workforce provisions, AB 841 will create careers Californians can be proud of.

AB 841 is supported by unlikely allies who are dedicated to banding together in the California spirit of innovation. Teachers, public health experts, labor and business groups, and environmental organizations all see opportunity – and we are counting on Governor Gavin Newsom to do the same. Economic activity breeds more economic activity. Embarking on solutions will pull us together and up and out of this time.

If there’s one thing that 2020 has taught us, it’s that we must create collaborative methods to solve mounting problems. If there is one thing my career as CEO of GreenWealth Energy Partners has taught me, it’s that strategic investments in energy efficiency can employee Californians, reduce energy bills, and create healthier buildings.

As a California business leader, I urge Gov. Newsom to rise to meet the moment. AB 841 is one small light that we hope will become a bright beam guiding California out of this economic crisis and into a healthy recovery, while simultaneously building a more sustainable, resilient future.

Editor’s Note: Ariel Fan is the founder and CEO of GreenWealth Energy Partners.

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