Lawmakers look at how to dole out school money


"We want to be the first in line somehow, someway," said Principal Greg Thomas.

Thomas is pleading his case to lawmakers to give him some of the state's new energy retrofit money. Seventy-three percent of California public schools are more than 25 years old and in need of the funding badly to upgrade or replace windows, inefficient lighting and old air-conditioning and heating systems.

"If we can look at energy efficiency, then you're having savings year over year over year, and then you will actually, in the long run, have more money available for those things you need," said Thomas.

The costs are staggering. More than 10,000 public schools in California together spend $700 million a year on energy. That's how much they spend on all books and supplies.

Thanks to voters who overwhelmingly approved Proposition 39 last month, disadvantaged schools will now be able to pay for energy retrofits. Proposition 39 closes a tax loophole that mostly benefited out-of-state corporations.

It's a billion-dollar-a-year funding boost for the state. Half of it goes to the general fund and the other half to the energy needs of schools, which could mean no more putty around the window sill.

"That old putty has been there forever," said Thomas.

Or single pane windows that make classrooms saunas in the summer and freezers in the winter. Science teacher Hugh Hunter says those conditions hinder learning.

"As the kids go to classroom to classroom, the experience is the same situation, and so after three to four hours of that, it's pretty hard for them to focus," said Hunter.

Lawmakers just introduced measures to get project monies out-the-door by next summer. Retrofitting is expected to cut energy costs at least 30 percent.

"We want to get them great new energy efficiency and clean energy technologies and bring our schools up to the 21st century," said Assm. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley.

When the upgrading is done, the full $1 billion goes to the state's general fund.

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