I grew up in Southeast LA, attending Bell Gardens Elementary as a young child in the eighties. Right next to the 710 freeway, the area was industrial, with asbestos in the buildings and smog in the air. I had my first asthma attack in the third grade, and I still remember the wheezing and discomfort. The asthma attacks frequently landed me at the doctor’s office and in the hospital, impacting my time in school and affecting my grades.
My story is a common story. In fact, it’s a story you can chart geographically. School children who go to schools closer to the 710 in Commerce deal with more health problems related to asthma and allergies than other children. Thirty years later, I still see children walking around our schools with inhalers.
In addition to these health issues, our students also face the challenges of learning in older classrooms – often in portable classroom trailers. These out-of-date classrooms contribute to poor learning environments at schools and drain our school resources. Archaic lighting and air-conditioners are energy hogs that take away precious dollars from our students.
That’s why I was happy to see Proposition 39 pass last November. The proposition will help build energy-saving projects in schools, community colleges and other public buildings. Now, California is looking at how to spend about $2.5 billion over the next five years on buildings where our children are educated and young adults prepare to start their careers.
We need LA-area legislators in Sacramento to ensure that Proposition 39 funds make their way to the Southland. Although more than half of Californians live south of Ventura County, California’s northern counties closer to Sacramento have in the past received a disproportionately larger share of the state’s energy efficiency dollars.
Over the next few months the California Energy Commission will be deciding on guidelines on how to award Prop. 39 dollars. We need LA-area legislators to be alert and ensure that these guidelines don’t disadvantage Southern California schools.
Our community is represented in Sacramento by Assemblymember Cristina Garcia, a former educator herself. She understands firsthand the challenges that our students face in going to schools in dire need of updates. With her expertise in this area, I urge her and all our local representatives to work to ensure that Prop 39 funds come home to our community.
With Proposition 39, we can invest funds into important school improvements. We can undertake projects that improve the ventilation in classrooms. We can finally pay to replace deteriorating rooftops – and we can replace them with cooling roofs that will simultaneously reduce school utility bills and keep students healthier.
After all, we know that where you learn affects how you learn. Our students need healthy educational experiences. It’s time to bring Proposition 39 funds home to our community and to build greener environments where our children can thrive and learn in the future.
David Vela is a member of the Montebello Unified School District Board of Education.