Air Quality: Funding, Improvements, and Environmental Equity

The Center for Green Schools (CGS) recently published a report of how school districts
across the country plan to invest American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds (ARP-ESSER or ESSER III) to manage air quality and upgrade facilities.  

The Study 

The Center for Green Schools looked at district planned investments for 4 categories:  

  1. Air Filtration, HVAC, Heating/Cooling 
  2. Repairing and/or improving school facilities to reduce the risk of illness 
  3. Windows, doors, and roof
  4. Lighting: UV lights for disease mitigation 

CGS wanted to see how schools used this money to improve their air quality and whether they noticed any changes. 


  • School districts prioritized a large proportion of ESSER III funding to indoor air quality
    • HVAC improvements were #2, just after staffing costs
    • Districts noticed energy usage & costs were lower if they used funds to upgrade HVAC systems
  • While improvements are still being monitored, improved air filtration shows promising signs of preventing COVID-19 infection and keeping students safe. 

GGI Connections 

In our book, Environmental Equity: Closing the Opportunity Gap in Urban Schools, we  identified similar connections between air quality and student health: 

  • “At least 17 separate studies link positive health to improved air quality, including fewer cases of colds and flu, asthma, sick building syndrome, respiratory problems, headaches, and allergies.” 
  • When schools improved air quality, there was a 41% reduction of these symptoms across illnesses. 

“Studies ‘find significant correlations between poor structural, conditional, and aesthetic attributions  (including lighting, temperature, and thermal comfort, acoustics, and indoor air quality) and low student learning and achievement.’ [Read more: “How crumbling school facilities perpetuate inequality.] Further supporting district efforts to address issues of outdated systems and infrastructure challenges.

To read the full report from The Center for Green Schools, click here.

Find additional resources on the GGI Website.


*Featured image by Deborah Svoboda via