Awarding $848 million in federal tax credits for a wide variety of school construction projects, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today launched an effort to see that a larger number of future projects incorporate energy efficiency and renewable power.
“It makes no sense to teach the next generation of California’s students in facilities that are relics of the past, powered by energy sources that are out of touch with our state’s renewable future,” Torlakson said. “Investing in energy efficiency will help our schools save money – now and over the long run – and show students that we’re concerned about the environment and their future.”
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Torlakson said he was creating a Schools of the Future team, comprised of education, state, labor, and business leaders to make it easier for schools to build energy efficiency into every project, remove regulatory barriers, and identify potential funding sources. The team will also make recommendations on the California Department of Education’s (CDE) role in the process, including identifying best practices and providing technical assistance to California’s 1,053 school districts.
The panel will be co-chaired by Cesar Diaz, Legislative Director of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, and Stephen E. Rogers, Board Vice President of the San Mateo Union High School District, with additional members to be named in the next few weeks.
“We are bringing creative thinkers together from our schools, from state agencies, from labor, and from the business community, and we’re giving them a mission: make California’s schools leaders in energy efficiency and renewable energy,” Torlakson said.
“We all benefit from making our local schools more energy efficient. This program will help create thousands of new renewable energy jobs throughout the state, many in the building and construction industries that have been hard hit by the downturn in the economy—while saving money through reduced energy use and improving our schools,” said Senator Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley).
Torlakson announced the project during a news conference at Berkeley High School at the construction site of a new stadium that will take advantage of the state’s High Performance Incentive (HPI) grants. The voluntary program provides additional funding to school projects that incorporate energy and water efficiency, maximize natural lighting, and use recycled materials, along with other goals.
Torlakson also announced that the Berkeley Unified School District will be one of 61 districts throughout the state to receive a portion of the $848 million in federal Qualified School Construction Bond (QSCB) tax credits. Meeting the state’s HPI standards was not a requirement for receiving the tax credits. The $25 million credit awarded to Berkeley will support both the stadium project and new classrooms being built at the district’s West Campus.
“It is wonderful to see hard-fought stimulus dollars being put to good use here in the 9th Congressional District,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-9th District). “The $848 million in tax credits being awarded to schools around California will ensure that our students are equipped with the best possible education, and that learning takes place in up-to-date facilities that reflect the priorities of our state and our nation. I am proud to support Superintendent Torlakson in a shared mission to continue investing in our young people’s education, and to do so in environmentally sustainable and energy efficient ways.”
“We are very pleased to be among the districts receiving these dollars,” said Berkeley Unified Superintendent Bill Huyett. “It comes on the heels of our successful construction bond campaign on the November ballot, and this further helps us to meet the commitment to our community to find matching resources to help support our significant construction plans, and the many green aspects of the projects that are so important to our students and the Berkeley community.”
CDE received 130 applications for the credits, totaling more than $2.5 billion. For the complete list of credit recipients, please visit the CDE site at http://www.cde.ca.gov/ls/fa/qs/qscbresults2010.asp.
The QSCB program, which provides federal tax credits in lieu of interest to lenders who purchase bonds from eligible school districts, is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Eligible districts also have the option to receive a direct cash subsidy payment from the U.S. Treasury.
ARRA provided up to $11 billion in tax credits nationwide for 2010, with $1.267 billion allocated to California. Of this total, $547 million were directly allocated to 12 large school districts and $68 million were allocated to the California School Finance Authority for charter schools; the remaining $652 million were allocated through the CDE application process along with $196 million in remaining 2009 credits included in today’s awards.
The Treasury Department set a tax credit rate for QSCB that on average equals the amount of interest school districts would ordinarily pay on debt. With the federal government covering most or all of the interest, school districts receive a substantial benefit because interest payments typically equal about 50 percent of the overall cost of a bond.
The bond proceeds may be used for new construction and/or renovation and repair of school facilities, the purchase of land on which the public school facility will be built, and the purchase of equipment.
As a science teacher, Torlakson believes energy-saving and renewable energy projects have enormous potential as teaching tools for students.
“I see hundreds of teachable moments where students can be included and study firsthand the design and installation of energy-saving improvements and solar and wind power systems,” he said.
For more information on QSCB, please visit the CDE site at http://www.cde.ca.gov/ls/fa/qs/.
For more information on HPI, please visit the page of the California Department of General Services, State Architect, at http://www.dgs.ca.gov/dsa/Programs/progSustainability/hps.aspx.