Remarks by Vice President Harris on Public School Infrastructure

Published: Mon Apr 04 2022

Thomas Elementary School
Washington, D.C.

5:18 P.M. EDT

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. Thank you. Please, have a seat. Thank you.

Thank you, Ms. Trina. (Laughter.)

I am so happy to be surrounded by our young leaders. I am telling you, this is - a highlight of being Vice President is to be around 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 is good to be here at Thomas Elementary and to be introduced, of course, by a graduate of Thomas Elementary.

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 Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, who began his career as an elementary school teacher.

And we are also joined, of course, by the Chancellor of
D.C. Public Schools, Lewis Ferebee, and by a number of labor leaders and advocates for the future of our country: "they" being the children of our nation.

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

So, it is an honor to share the stage with so many of you and with so many extraordinary young leaders.

You know, I will tell you that when I look out at who's here and I spent some time quickly with the principals who are here, the teachers who are here, I just love our teachers. I love our educators. I love our principals. (Applause.) I really do. I really do.

And I will tell you: My first-grade teacher - my first-grade teacher attended my law school graduation. Mrs. Frances Wilson - God rest her soul - attended my law school graduation. There are many things that have contributed to me being here at this very moment as Vice President, and that 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 raising and helping to raise, along with the parents and the community, the future of our nation.

And over the past two years, you have faced incredible challenges, in particular. You have responded with incredible resilience and strength. I was talking with Madam Principal earlier, and we toured through the school. What dedication this has required, in particular these last two years, doing everything that you can in your power to ensure that your students have been learning and growing. And you have continued to fight to ensure all schools receive the resources they need - in the midst of all of that and before.

And we might not be here today making these exciting announcements were it not for 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 by the name of Galya, and she was five years old.

And from the moment I walked into her classroom,
she was glued by my side. And she was something. She was absolutely something. Charming, energetic, intelligent.

At one point, I bent down and I said to her, "Galya, you can be anything you want to be."

And she looked me in my eyes, and she said, "Well, I want to be everything." (Laughter.) Yes, she did. She - and she - and she will be. And she will be.

And that ambition, that aspiration is extraordinary. And it is 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 bright and creative ideas, and who will be the future of our nation and 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 that, by these young leaders.

And our nation, therefore, has an obligation to ensure nothing limits their ability to learn, to grow, and to thrive.

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 public school children across our nation. And today, I'll provide a few examples.

For decades, our country has chronically underinvested in our public schools. (Applause.) And far too many of our school districts have gone without important repairs and upgrades to buildings and to classrooms. For example, upgrades to heating, to ventilation, and air conditioning systems, known as HVAC systems, which was highlighted, as we know, during the course of the height of the pandemic.

In schools with outdated HVAC systems, classrooms are often
too cold in the winter and too hot in the spring and approaching the summer. And, of course, that harms our students and their ability to concentrate and perform all year round. And it threatens the health and wellbeing of students, of teachers, of staff, and administrators.

One school, for example, in St. Paul, Minnesota, that I've been told about had to pass out wet towels and water bottles in the days before summer break because classroom temperatures were pushing 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 in and day out, can of course trigger allergies and asthma attacks.

And we know that schools in low-income and minority districts are more likely to have dangerous indoor air quality. This is just simply unacceptable. Unacceptable.

Today, the Department of Energy, therefore, is launching a $500 million grant program, funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, to enable public schools to invest in energy upgrades. (Applause.) And these grants will be - can be and will be used on a number of the issues that we have just discussed, such as improving school HVAC systems, similar to what happened right here at Thomas Elementary with the help of Mayor Muriel Bowser and the Representative who is here - Eleanor Holmes Norton, who's here and has been a leader for so long.

I - I cannot thank you enough for all that you do. I just - want to just take a point of personal privilege, if I may. And if we can just - (applause) - Eleanor Holmes Norton has been fighting for the children of D.C. for as long as I can remember. I looked up to you in your role of leadership when I was a student here at Howard University. And so many of us look to you always as a voice of conscience for what our country deserves and what the children and the people of Washington, D.C., deserve. Thank you so 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, prioritize undeserved [sic] - underserved, excuse me, districts.

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

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

Every public school in the country is eligible to apply for these grants, and I encourage them to do so.

Now, we know that the school day does not start when students set foot on school grounds. It starts when they get on the school bus or on their bicycle or when they lace up their shoes and walk out the door. And that is why our administration is working to ensure students are safe and healthy when they are on their way to and from school.

For example, through the Department of Transportation's Safe Routes to Schools, we are providing funding for schools to invest in safer walking and biking routes. And - (applause) –and, again, because our theory of the case - and I don't have to tell anyone here: Their school day starts from the time they wake up, which - don't have me started about what that means in terms of all of the responsibilities that we have as a society to understand that if we want to care for, protect, and support the children of our nation, we must do that in the context in the families in which they are being raised and address the needs of that family as well to be able to provide the best that we can for those young people. (Applause.)

And for those students who take the school bus, we are investing in a program that is especially close to my heart. Yellow school buses are our nation's largest form of mass transit. Yellow school buses. Every day, millions of children ride on diesel school buses, breathing toxic fumes that can harm their health.

When I was senator, I introduced the first bill to electrify our nation's school buses. And I'm proud that the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law invests $5 billion dollars in the EPA's Clean School Bus program to help school districts electrify their fleet of buses.

To all students - (applause) - to all the students who are watching today: You are the leaders of today and tomorrow.

And as we take on the challenges of the future - and I'm looking at our students - we need your help. Okay? (Laughter.) 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. All right? Thank you. (Laughter and applause.)

And in that 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 to ensure that you have every opportunity to not only succeed, but to thrive.

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

END 5:31 P.M. EDT

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