New federal initiative announced to fund facilities upgrades

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) opened applications on March 20 for the 2024 Renew America’s Schools Prize, which will award $180 million to districts across the country engaging in strategic partnerships to build capacity and implement energy upgrades at K-12 schools that lower energy use and costs, improve indoor air quality and foster healthier learning environments.

Eligible projects include new heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, building envelope (all exterior-facing components) and lighting projects, alternative fuel vehicles such as electric vehicles, infrastructure and renewable energy technologies and more. Submissions are due on June 13 by 5 p.m. EST.

“There’s nothing more critical than investing in the health and education of our nation’s children,” U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm said in a statement. “This program’s first round of funding saw an unprecedented influx of applications, requesting billions in school infrastructure upgrades. The Biden-Harris Administration has doubled down on its commitment to students across the country, allocating more resources both from this program and across the Department of Energy.”

The average main instructional school building in the U.S. is nearly 50 years old, with 38 percent built prior to 1970, according to a recent survey by the National Center for Education Statistics. Fewer than half of the 1,625 public schools surveyed underwent major building renovations. (Read a full recap of the survey findings here.)

Research shows that better indoor air quality, lighting and other qualities that make learning environments healthier and more inviting can boost student health outcomes and improve overall well-being and academic performance.

And by reducing energy use, these investments can reduce building operating costs — the second highest operational expense for schools — allowing savings to be reinvested in programs like after-school programs, summer learning and other educational opportunities and resources for students, according to the announcement.

Access the 2024 Renew America’s Schools Prize here and view tools, resources and more to support applications.

Additional details

Competitive proposals must implement energy assessments and building improvement projects across a portfolio of 10 or more school facilities. A portfolio may be composed of school facilities from one or more districts, but competitors submitting proposals should be organizations or teams with the capacity to aggregate and manage projects across a portfolio.

During Phase 1, competitors will build teams and curate lists of school facilities that demonstrate both need and eligibility for investment. Each Phase 1 winner will earn a cash prize of $300,000 and move on to Phases 2 and 3, during which they will enter and execute a Cooperative Agreement with DOE.

“The new prize-to-cooperative-agreement funding mechanism streamlines the application process, lowering barriers to entry for districts and increasing the accessibility of federal funds,” according to the statement. “It additionally promotes partnerships between school districts and industry experts, encouraging the formation of stakeholder support networks that can provide districts earlier, more targeted assistance, help them build internal expertise, and provide pathways to additional financing.”

Awards made in Phases 2 and 3 will vary by portfolio size but could range from $7.5 to $15 million. DOE will prioritize applications that demonstrate replicable partnership models, enhance the impact of federal funds, support more school communities and stimulate further investments in the K-12 energy sector.