IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

DOE Announces $80M for K-12 School Energy Upgrades

Following through on the promise of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the Department of Energy has opened applications for school districts in high-need areas to receive grants for energy-related projects.

A person adjusting a ladder along a brick wall topped with solar panels.
When the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act was signed into law a little over a year ago, the $1.2 trillion in funds allocated through the bipartisan package earmarked billions of dollars for numerous innovation and upgrade projects. Some of these were to be facilitated through the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), which will disburse monies to K-12 school districts for facility upgrades.

The department on Tuesday opened up the application process for the first wave of its Renew America’s Schools grant program. As described in a news release, the $80 million funding round is for districts with the highest need. DOE Schools and Nonprofit Program Manager Sarah Zaleski told Government Technology that school districts in rural areas, which have a high percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, and those with schoolwide Title 1, are among those that will qualify for the grant funds.

Schools will be able to use these funds for energy efficiency, ventilation, renewable energy, alternative vehicles and alternative fuel vehicle infrastructure, according to the grant program website. The application deadline for districts to submit concept papers for potential site upgrades is Jan. 26, and full applications are due by April 21, 2023, the release said. Zaleski said approved applicants can receive up to $15 million.

The grant program has a total of $500 million which will be divided up over a five-year span running through 2026, Zaleski said. The department’s news release cited an American Society of Civil Engineers report in 2021 that revealed schools are the second largest sector of public infrastructure spending, though administrators regularly report their campuses and structures are outdated and unhealthy. The DOE said the program is, in part, intended to help address concerns highlighted in the report.

“By making our students’ learning environments healthier with these critical energy improvements, our children will be better able to reach their full potential in the classroom,” U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said in a public statement.


The DOE also announced the opening of its Energy Champions Leading the Advancement of Sustainable Schools (Energy CLASS) prize program. Using funds from the Renew America’s Schools program, the $4.5 million Energy CLASS prize will give $100,000 to as many as 25 school districts in high-need areas. Funds for the Energy CLASS prize are intended to help schools hire and train staff to focus on energy management — people who will identify, execute and maintain energy-related projects.

Zaleski said the department created the prize program for school districts that might not be ready to apply for the full grant but have the intent to improve their facilities. The DoE conducted a survey of stakeholders in the spring, and Zaleski said the biggest trend the department discovered was a lack of capacity in school districts.

“Everything from being able to understand what their energy spend was, to what opportunities were, to how you’d go about finding money for those (opportunities), to applying to get funding, to managing the projects and then to keeping them up and maintaining them in the long run,” Zaleski said of the shortcomings discovered by the outreach. “So we really wanted to make sure we were addressing that need as well, for folks that are in school districts that might not be ready yet to apply for the grant because they hadn’t even evaluated opportunities in their school districts.”

The school districts could qualify for an additional $50,000 through the program based on performance, the release said.

School districts can apply for the Energy CLASS prize through Feb. 28. Zaleski said the DOE intends to replicate and expand the program if it is successful.
Giovanni Albanese Jr. is a staff writer for the Center for Digital Education. He has covered business, politics, breaking news and professional soccer over his more than 15-year reporting career. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Salem State University in Massachusetts.