Elementary children standing in front of a chalk board cheering

Transforming education infrastructure. A progress report.

By: Ruth Gratzke, President of Siemens Smart Infrastructure U.S. 

With a new school year fast approaching for students and educators across America, I wanted to return to the subject of leveraging federal funding to improve education infrastructure, which remains as crucial a matter as it was at the beginning of the pandemic.
 

At Siemens, our teams have been working with many of you since the onset of the pandemic. As new learnings from the experts at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) were shared, our team was busy working to support reopening plans to help implement the latest technologies and strategies based on recommendations from ASHRAE® to help mitigate the virus, improve key systems and filtration, and help our educational institutions work more efficiently and be smarter for the future. I am proud to say that we have helped millions of students safely return to classrooms and campuses, along with their educators and greater communities. Our work with schools, colleges and universities continues as I write this.

Companies like Siemens can recommend and implement the necessary building technologies and strategies to meet the latest CDC recommendations and ASHRAE® standards for ventilation and air quality, as well as help navigate the eligible use of federal funding. Significant federal funding continues to be available for K-12 schools, colleges and universities across the country to take significant steps to improve air quality and more for students.

Yet I want to emphasize that the opportunity to leverage available funding to transform U.S. education infrastructure is now. The deadlines for using these funds have been extended and more funding is now available.

 

I truly believe there is a larger opportunity that we need to focus on that can impact our schools and campuses for the future, not only significantly improving the learning environments for today’s learners and their educators, but the next generation and the next after that. The federal funding for education provides a unique opportunity to tackle the primary issue that challenges our education infrastructure, which are dated systems, deferred maintenance and more. However, a challenge is also an opportunity: one to infuse the latest technology in creating learning spaces that are not only healthier and safer in a world with COVID-19—but also smarter, more sustainable, and more resilient for the future. Now, there is even more funding and guidance from government agencies that goes even further.


The recent Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) includes funds dedicated for schools to drive efficiency, leverage renewable energy technologies, and even move towards green school buses and electric vehicle charging infrastructure, including: 

Furthermore, the Biden-Harris Administration has prioritized in-person learning by encouraging the use of a range of federal funds, including billions of dollars of remaining American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding specific to education as well as State and Local Fiscal Recovery funding, to address K-12 school infrastructure needs. To assist, The White House has also provided a toolkit on important topics on air quality, system efficiency, power sources, financing, and various federal offerings.


K-12 infrastructure improvement is critical to the educational environment. The science of learning and development has shown that students need school environments filled with safety, belonging, and health to learn and thrive. Many schools rely on outdated heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems that make classrooms less comfortable and may pose health risks to students and teachers exposed to contaminants or particles in the air that can trigger allergies or asthma attacks and potentially spread infectious diseases, including COVID-19.  


It is important to note that higher education also benefits from this additional funding. College and university campuses can leverage remaining Higher Education Emergency Relief federal funding to help create healthier and safer campus living and learning environments. And, similar to K-12 schools, these institutions can leverage funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, either directly or indirectly, to accelerate already-planned infrastructure improvement projects, leverage public-private partnerships to bring new projects to life, and work to create campuses that are more energy efficient, sustainable, and resilient to climate change and natural disasters. 


Previously, securing funding for these projects might have taken years or needed to happen in phases due to limited funds for capital projects. Now, there is no reason to wait. As a long-time technology partner to schools and campuses across the country, our approach at Siemens is to provide value for the long term, combining technology solutions and strategies with our broader expertise around smart, integrated buildings bringing deep experience and knowledge to the table. 


In short, the time is now. Our team can assist in navigating all the available funding to be sure you get the most value for eligible improvements that have real impact for your school, district, or campus today and for the future. We can move quickly and help create a plan to make the most of this unique moment in time. This is the time to “think big” and invest in our learning environments and our schools and campuses where we know the best learning happens.


Editor’s Note: Siemens is a proud supporter of the “Efficient and Healthy Schools” campaign through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy. Check it out and join to tap into success stories, technical support, and more.
 

Additionally, the deadlines for using Federal Relief funds for Education have been extended. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) will allow flexibility for states to liquidate Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds, with a prioritization on construction projects, beyond the programs' original deadlines. Districts can work with states to apply for an extension to liquidate funds 18 months after obligation to as late as April 2026 or longer if there are extenuating circumstances. Contracts must be signed by original ESSER deadlines (ESSER I 9/22, ESSER II 9/23 and ESSER III 9/24). For colleges and universities, the ED has granted extensions to institutions with HEERF grant balances greater than $1,000 to expend funds through June 30, 2023.

Published: August 26, 2021; Updated: August 3, 2022