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Sources of Funding for Ventilation Upgrades in U.S. Schools

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. government allocated significant funds toward upgrading schools and other public buildings to improve ventilation and indoor air quality. Beyond tackling the virus itself, improvements to indoor air quality are a welcome change as they can make a significant difference in the health of students and staff, including increasing productivity and decreasing absenteeism.

What Ventilation Upgrade Funds Are Available for Schools?

Governed by the federal Office of Elementary & Secondary Education, the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds have comprised the following:


As part of the Coronavirus Aid Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March 2020, $13.2 billion was allotted to the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) Fund “to address the impact that COVID-19 has had, and continues to have, on elementary and secondary schools across the Nation.” The last day to obligate these funds (i.e., legally commit) was September 30, 2022.


The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act, signed in December 2020, included another $54.3 billion for schools. The last day to obligate these funds is September 30, 2023.


Signed into law in March 2021, the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act added another $122 billion in funds “to help safely reopen and sustain the same operation of schools and address the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the Nation’s students.” The last day to obligate these funds is September 30, 2024.

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According to Afterschool Alliance, “While the Congressional Budget Office estimates that ESSER outlays will extend through 2028, updated [U.S. Dept. of Education] guidance requests that ESSER 3 funds be liquidated within 120 days after Sept 30, 2024.”

It’s important to remember that timelines are critical for allocation and spending deadlines—many funds are use-it-or-lose-it, and much of the money has yet to be spent. While estimates reveal that ESSER funds are being spent at a pace of $5 billion per month, as of February 2023, only 66% of ESSER II funds and 25% of ESSR III funds have been used.

To track where COVID relief funds for schools are available, check out this tracker from Budget Challenge. The interactive tool allows you to break allocations down by each county and school district.

How Schools Are Using Relief Funds to Improve Indoor Air Quality

There are a number of ways schools can use ESSER funds to target indoor air quality, energy efficiency, and decarbonization. These include switching out filters to MERV-13 or higher and replacing centralized HVAC systems in schools with decentralized systems, like Systemair’s Changeair Vertical Unit Ventilators, that control the airflow for a specific area or room. Units are sized for each specific classroom and are dialed-in for the ideal air exchanges per hour.

Schools also can consider switching to Systemair’s new virucidal air filter, DELTRI+, which can neutralize or destroy 99% of viruses, including COVID-19. Comparable to the MERV 16 filter class (acc. ASHRAE 52.2), DELTRI+ is compatible with existing and new air handling units (AHUs) in standard sizes.

The Dept. of Education’s website offers a number of additional approaches for improving air quality in schools. These include regular maintenance, inspection, and testing of ventilation units; adding portable HEPA air filters; reducing or eliminating air recirculation; disable demand-control ventilation; and more.

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