(This guest post was written by David Hecker, President of the AFT Michigan.)

A few weeks ago, before a joint session of Congress, President Obama outlined the American Jobs Act and said, “…there are schools throughout this country that desperately need renovating. How can we expect our kids to do their best in places that are literally falling apart? This is America. Every child deserves a great school — and we can give it to them, if we act now.”

We couldn’t agree more. Across this state, children in Michigan experience what children all around this country experience every day: schools that desperately need renovation and modernization. Meanwhile, more than 10 percent of Michiganders are unemployed. There is a way we can address both jobs and the inadequate condition of many of our schools. We can modernize them and make them more energy efficient, providing safer, healthier places for our children to learn.

The average American school is over 40 years old, and nearly a quarter of them require extensive repair just to meet basic health and safety standards. Across the nation, 15,000 schools have air that had been deemed unfit to breathe, according to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). These are the rooms that our kids sit in for hours every day during the school year, working to learn the skills and knowledge that will serve them for the rest of their lives.

In his jobs bill, President Obama is proposing $25 billion to modernize America’s schools. Here in Michigan, that could mean about $926 million of improvements to our schools, making them more energy efficient and creating good construction, design, maintenance and other jobs in the process. That’s thousands of people being put to work making our schools healthy and safe.

Modernizing our schools will also save taxpayers in the long run. Modern, green schools use 33 percent less energy and 32 percent less water than older schools. Needless to say, that significantly reduces utility costs. On average, energy-efficient, green schools save $100,000 per year on operating costs — enough to hire at least one new teacher, buy 200 new computers, or purchase 5,000 textbooks. If every new U.S. school construction and renovation utilized these greener, modern construction methods today, the total energy savings alone would be $20 billion over the next 10 years.

To create a brighter future for our children, we need to provide them with the best possible education we can. That means investing in our workforce, not cutting the state’s education funding by $1 billion. That means attracting new teachers and working to keep our current teachers in the profession, not denying teachers a voice on the job. And that means ensuring that our children attend 21st century schools that provide a safe and healthy learning environment.

Leaders in Lansing should focus on closing our state’s unemployment gap and passing policies to modernize and renovate our schools, not on squeezing the teachers who educate Michigan’s kids. It’s time to make a positive step forward for Michigan’s children, educators and communities.

The American Jobs Act and the nationwide effort to renovate and modernize our schools will provide cleaner, safer and healthier learning environments for our children and educators here in Michigan. What’s more, it will create sorely needed jobs that can change Michigan’s economy for the long-run.

We have great students, and we have skilled workers ready to upgrade schools across the state. Now we just need the political will in Lansing and Washington to make it happen. 

David Hecker is the President of the AFT Michigan.

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