The American Rescue Plan Act (ARP) provides significant funding to public schools in the United States. The legislation specifically addresses the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on education. It’s for a wide range of purposes, including using ESSER for IAQ and HVAC system improvements in schools.

Under the ARP, $122 billion is allocated to the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) III. This is for school districts to use for a variety of purposes related to COVID-19 response and recovery. Especially to alleviate learning loss, improve school facilities, and mitigate the spread of the virus.

What Can Schools use ESSER for?

  • Activities authorized by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965, including Title I programs, special education programs, and other programs designed to improve academic achievement.
  • Any activity authorized by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
  • Initiatives that are necessary to maintain the operation of and continuity of services in local educational agencies (LEAs) and continuing to employ existing staff.
  • Addressing the unique needs of low-income students, children with disabilities, English learners, racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessness, and children and youth in foster care.
  • Developing and implementing procedures and systems to improve the preparedness and response efforts of LEAs.

Improving indoor air quality and HVAC systems in schools is a crucial component of maintaining safe and healthy learning environments during the pandemic. As a matter of fact, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued guidance on improving ventilation and indoor air quality in schools, which recommends increasing the circulation of outdoor air, improving air filtration, and upgrading HVAC systems to meet current guidelines.

ESSER Recommendations for IAQ and HVAC

School districts can use ESSER III funds to implement these recommendations by investing in HVAC system upgrades and maintenance, air filtration systems, and other measures to improve indoor air quality. This includes:

  • Upgrading and maintaining HVAC systems to meet current guidelines for air flow and filtration.
  • Implementing air filtration systems such as HEPA filters or UV-C lights to capture and kill airborne particles.
  • Installing carbon dioxide sensors to monitor indoor air quality and adjust ventilation rates accordingly.
  • Conducting regular maintenance on HVAC systems to ensure they are functioning properly.
  • Improving insulation and weatherization to prevent outside air from entering the building.

In addition to ESSER III funds, school districts can also use funds from previous rounds of ESSER for IAQ and HVAC improvements. For example, under ESSER II, school districts were allowed to use the funds for any activities authorized by ESEA, IDEA, or the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act (AEFLA), which includes activities related to improving school facilities and the health and safety of students.

Are Schools Using It?

However, a recent report from the U.S. Green Building Council and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers found that many schools were not effectively using ESSER for IAQ improvements.

MANAGING AIR QUALITY DURING THE PANDEMIC: How K-12 Schools Addressed Air Quality in the Second Year of COVID-19 surveyed 4000 schools across the U.S. with more 2.6 million students. The findings were surprising.

A summary overview revealed:

  • Most schools’ HVAC couldn’t meet COVID recommendations.
  • District characteristics didn’t determine number of IAQ measures.
  • Characteristics were associated with specific IAQ measures like assessing outdoor air delivery and increasing it through HVAC.
  • ARP/ESSER funded IAQ more than operational or capital budgets.
  • Just over half thought access to funds was available for IAQ.
  • Non-urban leaned on state and local guidance, while urban used federal (like CDC, NIH) and NGO (like ASHRAE) guidance.
  • Over 25% said there were no new plans for IAQ or HVAC changes.

To say the least, work still needs to be done.

Using ESSER for IAQ and HVAC Improvements

WTI Pure Air Control Services focuses on four main areas that you can use ESSER for IAQ improvements.

These include:

Overall, using ESSER for IAQ and HVAC improvements in schools is an essential component of ensuring safe and healthy learning environments during the pandemic. By utilizing ESSER III funds and other sources of funding, school districts can make the necessary investments to improve ventilation, air filtration, and other aspects of indoor air quality in their facilities.

If you are a school and need help with using ESSER for IAQ and HVAC please contact us today!