Water Quality, Safety and Access in Public Schools

By Andrew Johnson

School facilities are important for student success. The quality of these facilities can impact achievement and the overall health and wellness of students. The COVID-19 pandemic energized discussions across the U.S. about schools and public health, with concerns about building conditions taking center stage.  

Community leaders, parents and school officials focused on building air quality as they planned for the return to in-person learning during the pandemic. Another health concern in schools after the temporary closures was the quality of drinking water. When schools are unoccupied for long periods of time, the stagnant water supply deteriorates in quality. Sitting water can collect higher levels of heavy metals and microorganisms, such as lead or bacteria. Water access and quality also impact student achievement. Research shows that hydration can support cognitive function in students.  

Many states are seeking solutions to improve water quality. A Harvard survey found that a majority of sampled schools do not test water supplies for lead or flush water sources after periods of nonuse. The study found that only 51% of schools tested water for bacteria. While water testing policies vary, policymakers are responding to these public health concerns by prioritizing water quality through policy directives for addressing lead and other unsanitary contaminants. Directives include establishing lead testing requirements and standards, ensuring funding for water testing and focusing resources on susceptible, older facilities. 

Lead Testing Requirements Standards 

Once states implement policies, they must determine an action level — the maximum level of lead presence allowed before intervention measures are required. The thresholds and action(s) required varies state to state. For example, Indiana’s level is 15 parts per billion (or 15 micrograms of lead per one liter of water). If schools test at or above that limit, they must seek government or other grant funding to lower levels.  

New Hampshire does not set a limit. Instead, it follows guidance from the Environmental Protection Agency which the state reports is 15 parts per billion. If a school exceeds this limit, the school is required to notify families of the test results within five days and inform them of the action plan within 30 days or “as soon as practical.” Schools are required to test water within 30 days of any changes in the EPA’s regulations.  

Utah and Vermont have lower action levels of five and four parts per billion, respectively. If a Utah school exceeds this threshold, schools must develop a plan to reduce lead levels and continually provide information to families. Vermont, on the other hand, requires families and staff be notified of testing and the action plan before testing takes place.  

Funding for Water Testing 

States have different funding options for water testing in schools.  

  • California and Colorado have grant funding opportunities for child care centers and public schools, respectively.  
  • Michigan funds reimbursements for statewide school testing and water system maintenance.  
  • New York allows certain expenses associated with maintenance to be reimbursed. Further, the state allows schools that “substantially comply” with testing and lead thresholds below the limit to receive waivers from regular testing.  
  • North Carolina utilizes funds from the State Fiscal Recovery Fund (of the American Rescue Plan Act) to remediate lead and asbestos contamination in public schools and child care facilities.  
  • Rhode Island allows federal capitalizations grant funds to be used in public schools and daycare centers.  

Focused Testing in Older Facilities 

Older buildings are more susceptible to pipe deterioration that results in unsafe drinking water. As such, some states are prioritizing water testing in older school buildings. Colorado established a grant program to test for lead in school drinking water that gives the highest priority to the oldest public elementary schools, then the oldest non-elementary public schools and then all other public schools.  

Louisiana established a pilot program for general water testing in schools. The Department of Health selects 12 elementary schools built prior to 1986 or that may otherwise be susceptible to drinking water contamination. Similarly, Tennessee requires the state board of education to implement a program to reduce the potential sources of lead contamination in school drinking water. This includes periodic testing of lead levels in water sources at school facilities constructed prior to June 19, 1986. This program requires samples to be taken from water that has sat in plumbing overnight. 

Maintaining the physical space of schools is necessary for student health, safety and achievement. While the health concerns of building quality pre-date the COVID-19 school closures, the pandemic expanded health and safety concerns around conditions like air and water quality. By responding to these concerns, notably the impact of safe drinking water, states are implementing policies outlining lead testing requirements and standards, ensuring funding for water testing and focusing resources on older facilities. 

Northeastern trade directors meet to discuss regional trade development

The Eastern Trade Council held its first meetings in 1999, resulting in a joint report on regional exports that helped state leaders make the case for investment in export development.

Nearly a quarter of a century later, the board is still serving as a catalyst for northeastern state export leaders to collaborate, communicate with federal trade officials, and navigate an increasingly turbulent global marketplace.

The council, also called the ETC, is an affiliate organization of CSG East and is the only organization bringing trade directors together on a regional level.

 

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Increasing Early Childhood Education Training and Credentialing

Research shows that “investments in quality preschool programs bolster student success.” Preschool programs prepare students for success in elementary grades, specifically in areas such as literacy and math.

A 2020 policy brief, from the Education Commission of the States, further highlights and quantifies the impacts of quality preschool programs, including positive generational gains, enhanced social and emotional learning skills, and spillover effects to students who did not participate. A recent study also shows that additional training for educators and caregivers further strengthens the impact of those learning experiences.

State policymakers across the country are working to implement policies that expand and enhance training and credentialing opportunities for in-service and pre-service early childhood educators in a variety of ways. Below, we break down specific examples of how states are offering – and funding – these opportunities.

 

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The Time is Now to Address the Broadband Gap

The COVID pandemic changed the way we work, and states have been exploring ways to ensure their residents can keep up. 

This “tech new deal” affecting the U.S. includes one of the biggest investments in broadband since 2008. “We have not seen the amount of healthy investment in broadband since the American Recovery Act,” said Nicol Turner Lee, PhD, director for the Center for Technology Innovation at The Brookings Institution. “It’s important to take advantage of this time.” 

Dr. Turner Lee was a panelist for Tuesday’s luncheon session, “The Age of Transformation: Workforce Development and Education in a Post-COVID Economy.” 

The ability to work remotely grew during the early days of the pandemic, but some people fell through the cracks. Dr. Turner Lee’s forthcoming book – “Digitally Invisible: How the Internet is Creating a New Underclass” – explores the gap and how it impacts those without adequate access. 

“Let’s be smart,” she said. “It’s about closing the divide, preparing people for the next generation.” 

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Medicaid in a Post-COVID World: Waivers Can Provide Flexibility for States

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught states a lot about health policy, especially around Medicaid.

The pandemic highlighted ineq­uities in health care across the states, according to speakers at a recent CSG East Health Policy session.

“It highlighted communities without access where COVID has the highest impact on com­munities with the least access to health care,” said Rhode Island Sen. Joshua Miller. In his state, it also highlighted a lack of trust and a lack of competency in dealing with the pandemic.

In Maryland, said Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk, chair of the House Health and Government Op­erations Committee, it also illustrated the need for more oversight, especially as executive orders proliferated during the early days.

She, too, noted the impact on communities of color and how they were affected. “We started thinking about equity, but we also started thinking about racism. For the Black and Brown communities, there is structural racism,” she said. “You have to really think about the history.”

Delegate Joseline Peña-Melnyk speaks to the CSG East Health Committee

In addressing some of these issues, states found ways to improve the health care delivery system. Peña-Melnyk worked to pass legislation to recognize racism as a public health issue and create a commission on health equity, which is required to provide yearly recommendations to state leaders on how to improve the lives of those who are marginalized.

Both Maryland and Rhode Island addressed the use of telehealth in communities across the states.

“Telehealth was one, but not the only effort and opportunity, to expand health care to where it was not present,” Miller said.

In Maryland, legislation was passed to ensure undocumented pregnant women have access to prenatal care.

But COVID also illustrated the impact on state budgets and economies when undocumented people don’t have access to health care. Many of them are on the front lines as restaurant workers, grocery workers, and nursing home caregivers.

“If those people have less access to health care, it’s going to not only affect them, it’s going to affect the community because of the pan­demic,” Miller said.

The health care system continues to change and the pandemic has provided some valuable lessons. But to adapt with Medicaid, states need to be more aware of potential for change through the Medicaid waiver process, Miller and Peña-Melnyk said.

“States are very shy. [CMS] would love for states to be creative and submit these waivers and just try and they would be willing to do it,” Peña-Melnyk said.

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America’s Bus Fleet Awarded $409.3 Million

On March 14, 2022, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA) awarded $409.3 million to modernize and electrify America’s buses, make bus systems and routes more reliable, and improve their safety. FTA received 303 proposals totaling approximately $2.56 billion. Grants were given to 70 projects in 39 states.

“These grants will help people in communities large and small get to work, get to school, and access the services they need,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “Everyone deserves access to safe, reliable, clean public transportation – and thanks to the President’s historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we are bringing modern buses to communities across America.”

 

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CSG East job opening: Meetings and Operations Coordinator

The Meetings and Operations Coordinator supports the planning, coordination, and execution of the organization’s meetings, programs, and special events of various sizes, as well as booking travel for individual trips of members and colleagues. These events range from a dozen or so participants to 400+ for our annual meeting.

You’ll work with a small team of professionals and consultants on a hybrid schedule out of our New York City office.

 

Apply here

 

What you’ll do: 

Specific responsibilities of the Meetings and Operations Coordinator include the following: 

Works with meetings program manager to plan, coordinate, and conduct logistics for conferences, programs, and events, including speaker management, registration and reporting, transportation, technology, equipment, printing, food and beverage, and other related issues.
Processes accounts payable and receivable, reconciles credit card accounts; keeps accurate records, prepares reports, provides cost analysis, and requests bids. 
Compiles and prepares onsite briefing packets, name badges, signage, and tent cards, and ensures that onsite equipment and supply needs are met; packs, ships, and arranges for return of meetings materials. 
Assists the professional development program manager with application outreach, tracking, compilation of rankings, as well as other administrative tasks. 
Works with director on developing and implementing member engagement initiatives and fundraising. 
Assists in scheduling, preparation for, and organizing state visits and related materials. 
Establishes and maintains all office/vendor/contract filing systems.

What you’ll bring: 

Administrative work experience with some background in meeting and/or event planning; preference given to those with a post-secondary degree. 
Ability to interact effectively with diverse people in different contexts and foster equity and inclusion through self-awareness, cultural sensitivity, and valuing others. 
Dedication to public service with an unfailing commitment to act with civility, be nonpartisan in performing CSG duties, and be a responsible steward of member and donor funds. 
Ability to work effectively in a highly collaborative team environment as well as independently. 
Excellent customer service and interpersonal skills. 
Ability to organize, prioritize, and complete multiple projects in a detail-oriented manner to meet schedule and timelines. 
Solid computer skills, specifically in Microsoft Excel and Word. 
Ability to communicate, both verbally and in writing, with business contacts and legislators in a courteous and professional manner. 

 

How you apply: 

If you’re interested in helping us facilitate the exchange of ideas among state leaders, you should upload the following elements with your application using this link:

Cover letter explaining your interest in the position and CSG East. Applications without a cover letter will not be considered. (See this article from Indeed on how to write a simple cover letter.)
Resume

CSG believes that pay equity and pay transparency advance workplace fairness. Compensation will be equitable and based on experience and education. The salary range for this position, based in New York City, is $55,000 to $65,000. This salary range is subject to change based on work location and market conditions. 

Qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to characteristics including but not limited to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability or protected veteran status.

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New 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline marks first week since launch

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has a new, easy-to-remember number for 24/7 crisis care.

The transition to 988 — a three-year joint effort by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to put crisis care more in reach for people in need — officially ended with the launch of 9-8-8 last Saturday, July 16.

The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is a network of more than 200 state and local call centers supported by HHS through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

The initiative is part of the Biden administration’s effort to address the nation’s ongoing mental health crisis and was identified by U.S. Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra as a top priority at HHS.

Since January 2021, federal investments to support the 988 transition have increased 8-fold (from $24M to $432M).

The 10-digit Lifeline number 1-800-273-TALK (8255) will continue to be operational after July 16 and will route calls to 988 indefinitely. Veterans, service members, and their families can also still reach the Veterans Crisis Line with the current phone number 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, or by chat

 

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Supreme Court hands down flurry of major decisions

By:  Lisa Soronen, State and Local Legal Center, Washington, D.C.

The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) files Supreme Court amicus curiae briefs on behalf of the Big Seven national organizations representing state and local governments. CSG East occasionally republishes briefs, like the one below, on cases and decisions that affect the Eastern Region.

Recent decisions handed down by the Supreme Court will have major implications for states, including a school funding case originating in Maine and a gun licensing case originating in New York. Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, overturning Roe v. Wade, is covered below as well.

 

 

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