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Cool Schools legislation passes but will it work?

How will the money filter into school districts?

While on paper the so-called 'Cool Schools' legislation signed into law last week by Gov. John Kitzhaber seems to be a win-win for Oregon school districts, but many questions remain about the law's implementation.

House Bill 2960 aims to blend environmental protection with job creation as it fast-tracks energy efficiency and health/safety upgrades for the state's K-12 schools. The bill unanimously passed both the Oregon House and Senate and was signed into law on June 23 by Kitzhaber.

'Cool Schools' will help fund renewable energy upgrades and retrofitting of older school buildings. It also will boost the economy in areas hit by the recession. The state would allow low- or no-interest loans to fund the renewable energy upgrades and then, with the money saved on energy bills, schools can pay back the loans.

The law has been hailed as a success for the 2011 legislative session by a variety of organizations and political groups, including the Oregon League of Conservation Voters.

'If you want to find a true success story for the 2011 legislative session, look no further than 'Cool Schools,' ' Jon Isaacs, the league's executive director, said after the bill's passage. 'This bill has been a top priority for OLCV and the Oregon Conservation Network because it shows that job creation and protecting our environment are natural partners. And, most importantly, 'Cool Schools' will do a great thing for our children: reduce harmful toxics in schools, improve indoor air quality, and give them healthier, safer places to learn and grow.'

While the legislation seems to be a perfect match for job creation and energy efficiency, questions remain on how school districts access the funding.

'I don't know just what effect this is going to have on us,' Estacada School District Operations Director Greg Lynch said. 'We haven't seen exactly how the money is going to filter down. We will certainly take advantage of anything we can do to reduce our energy costs.'

Lynch went on to say that the school district has been applying a federal grant for energy efficiency projects and that if the new bill does effectively filter money into the school district, it would certainly be a benefit. But until further details on the legislation are spelled out, he isn't sure how effective it will be.

'Until I see more, I am taking a wait-and-see approach,' he said.