Vice President Harris’ remarks on public school infrastructure

Thomas Elementary School
washington d.c.

5:18 p.m. EDT

THE VICE-PRESIDENT: Thank you all. Thank you. Sit down, please. Thank you.

Thank you, Ms. Trina. (To laugh.)

I am so happy to be surrounded by our young leaders. I’m telling you, it’s – a highlight of being vice president is being surrounded by all of our young leaders. I’m so happy to be with you all today, and I’m so proud of you.

Good afternoon, everyone. Good afternoon.

It’s good to be here at Thomas Elementary and to be introduced, of course, by a Thomas Elementary graduate.

And today we are joined, as you know, by extraordinary leaders: our Secretary of Energy, Jennifer Granholm; our administration’s National Climate Advisor, Gina McCarthy; and our Education Secretary, Miguel Cardona, who began his career as an elementary school teacher.

And we are also joined, of course, by the Chancellor of
DC Public Schools, Lewis Ferebee, and by a number of labor leaders and advocates for our country’s future: “them” being our nation’s children.

All of you — all of you are truly indispensable as partners in our administration. And I bring my greetings on behalf of the President, Joe Biden.

It is therefore an honor to share the stage with so many of you and with so many extraordinary young leaders.

You know, I’ll tell you when I look at who’s here and I’ve spent some quick time with the principals who are here, the teachers who are here, I love our teachers. I love our educators. I love our directors. (Applause.) Really. I really do.

And I’ll tell you: my first-year teacher — my first-year teacher attended my law school graduation. Mrs. Frances Wilson – may God rest her soul – attended my law degree. There are a lot of things that have contributed to me being here right now as vice-president, and this is one of them.

So, I thank you all — the educators — for what you do every day, because I know this work is personal to you. And you are uplifting and helping to uplift, together with parents and community, the future of our nation.

And in the past two years, you have faced incredible challenges, in particular. You reacted with incredible resilience and strength. I was talking with the Principal earlier, and we walked around the school. What dedication it has taken, especially over the past two years, doing everything in your power to ensure your students learn and grow. And you have continued to fight to ensure that all schools receive the resources they need – in the midst of it all and before.

And we might not be here today to make these exciting announcements without your longstanding advocacy.

And the President and I are deeply grateful for all you have done and all you continue to do.

So about a year ago – I was talking to the Secretary of Education – about a year ago we took a trip to Connecticut, and I met a young student named Galya, and she had five years.

And from the moment I walked into his class,
she was glued to my side. And she was something. She was absolutely something. Charming, energetic, intelligent.

At one point, I leaned over and said, “Galya, you can be anything you want to be.

And she looked me in the eye, and she said, “Well, I want to be everything.” (Laughs.) Yes, she did. She – and she – and she will be. And she will be.

And this ambition, this aspiration is extraordinary. And it’s not uncommon.

In every classroom, in every school, in every community
of our nation, there are young people like Galya, like these young leaders behind me who see so much, who are so smart, who have such brilliant and creative ideas, and who will be the future of our nation and who are currently leaders in their own right.

These young people who dream of becoming scientists and doctors and engineers and teachers. Young people filled with so much passion and purpose.

And our future will be determined, I know, by these young leaders.

And so our nation has an obligation to ensure that nothing limits their ability to learn, grow and prosper.

So today our administration is releasing the Biden-Harris Action Plan for Building Better School Infrastructure. This plan contains a number of initiatives that will improve the learning environment for children in public schools across our nation. And today I will give some examples.

For decades, our country has chronically underinvested in our public schools. (Applause.) And too many of our school districts have failed to make significant repairs and upgrades to buildings and classrooms. For example, upgrades to heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, known as HVAC systems, which were highlighted, as we know, during the height of the pandemic.

In schools with outdated HVAC systems, classrooms are often
too cold in winter and too hot in spring and approaching summer. And, of course, it hurts our students and their ability to focus and perform all year. And it threatens the health and well-being of students, teachers, staff and administrators.

One school, for example, in St. Paul, Minnesota, that I was told about had to hand out wet towels and water bottles in the days leading up to summer vacation because classroom temperatures reached 100 degrees. A dozen students had to be sent to the nurse’s office.

Schools with inadequate HVAC systems are also more likely to have poor indoor air quality. Studies have shown that breathing such air day after day can of course trigger allergies and asthma attacks.

And we know that schools in low-income and minority neighborhoods are more likely to have unsafe indoor air quality. It is simply unacceptable. Unacceptable.

So today, the Department of Energy is launching a $500 million grant program, funded by the bipartisan Infrastructure Act, to allow public schools to invest in energy upgrades. (Applause.) And these grants will be – can be and will be used on a number of issues that we just discussed, such as improving schools’ HVAC systems, similar to what happened here at Thomas Elementary with the help of Mayor Muriel Bowser and the representative who is here – Eleanor Holmes Norton, who has been here and been a leader for so long.

I… I can’t thank you enough for all you do. I just want to–just want to raise a point of personal privilege, if I may. And if we can just – (applause) – Eleanor Holmes Norton has been fighting for the kids of DC for as long as I can remember. I admired you in your leadership role when I was a student here at Howard University. And so many of us still look to you as a voice of conscience for what our country deserves and what the children and people of Washington, DC deserve. Thanks very much. I’m so glad to see you. (Applause.)

And these Department of Energy grants can also be used to install energy-efficient windows, solar panels, and better insulation. And they will, of course, give priority to [sic] — underserved, excuse me, districts.

These grants will also save schools money. In most school districts, the second annual expense after salaries is the energy bill. These grants will help schools significantly reduce their energy costs – savings that can be reinvested back into the school to hire more teachers, make long-needed repairs, or invest in new technology to support learning.

And at the same time, these projects will create well-paying unionized jobs for electricians, carpenters, painters and more.

All public schools in the country are eligible to apply for these grants, and I encourage them to do so.

Now we know that the school day doesn’t start when students set foot on school grounds. It starts when they get on the school bus or on their bike or when they lace up their shoes and walk through the door. And that is why our administration is working to ensure the safety and health of students as they travel to and from school.

For example, through the Department of Transport’s Safe Routes to Schools, we provide funding for schools to invest in safer walking and cycling routes. And – (applause) – and, again, because our theory of the case – and I don’t have to tell anyone here: their school day starts the time they wake up, this who – don’t ask me what it means in terms of all the responsibilities we have as a society to understand that if we are to care for and protect and support our nation’s children, we must do so within the context of families in which they are raised and meet the needs of this family as well to be able to provide the best we can for these young people. (Applause.)

And for students who take the school bus, we are investing in a program that is particularly close to my heart. Yellow school buses are our country’s largest form of public transportation. Yellow school buses. Every day, millions of children travel in diesel school buses, breathing in toxic fumes that can harm their health.

When I was a senator, I introduced the first bill to electrify school buses in our country. And I’m proud that the bipartisan Infrastructure Act is investing $5 billion in the EPA’s Clean School Bus program to help school districts electrify their bus fleets.

To all the students — (applause) — to all the students watching today: you are the leaders of today and tomorrow.

And as we meet the challenges of the future — and I’m looking at our students — we need your help. Agreed? (Laughs.) We need your ideas. We need your intelligence. We need your ambition. And I want you to always have ambition. And we need your aspiration. Agreed? Thank you. (Laughter and applause.)

And in this way, our world — our nation and our world will be all that it can be. And I will make this promise to our young leaders: that we will continue to fight so that you have every opportunity not only to succeed, but to prosper.

We are counting on you. And when I look at you, each one of you, I know our future is bright. Thanks very much. Thank you all. (Applause.)


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