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States Find Innovative Ways to Fund and Sustain Testing for Lead in Water at School


Alexandria, VA — While most states encourage or require schools to test for lead in drinking water, funding to sustain remediation lags—despite significant federal grants designed to boost those efforts. According to a new NASBE analysis, several states are overcoming this barrier by using innovative funding streams and communicating effectively with the public about test results and strategies to speedily implement and sustain remediation and filter programs for schools.

Eighteen states require schools to test for lead; 15 states provide schools with some financial resources to enact mitigation. Yet schools still struggle to secure funding for pipe replacements or filters and communicate test results and remediation strategies.

States can increase the success of their lead testing and remediation programs by developing clear guidance for when to act and how to apply for resources to replace pipes or install filters, as well as by supporting schools in their communications efforts.

  • Vermont has a strong community notification strategy for schools to use when their water tests positive for lead. The state provides schools with detailed templates and step-by-step instructions.
  • New Jersey requires all schools and child care facilities to test for lead in drinking water every three years, and recent legislation appropriated $6.6 million in state grants for water infrastructure projects, including improvements to drinking water outlets and remediation of lead service lines in schools.
  • By prioritizing schools with large percentages of low-income students and students of color, North Carolina state leaders are creating an equity-centered water quality plan to prepare for mandatory lead testing in schools.
  • Through legislation that requires lead testing at all pre-K schools receiving Title I funding, California is strengthening its lead testing and remediation. The state set a goal of reducing school lead levels to zero, using federal and state funds.
  • This year, Washington shifted from voluntary to mandatory lead testing for all schools built prior to 2016. The state also provided $3 million to support fixing or replacing fixtures and pipes that have high lead levels, plus an additional $1 million for the state health agency to conduct the testing.
  • The District of Columbia is currently the only state or territory that requires the installation of lead-removing filters at every drinking water tap in schools.
  • Michigan saw recent “filter first” legislation pass the state senate that, if signed into law, would require and provide funding for every child care center and school to install quality filters for taps and drinking fountains. The governor also allocated funding for cleaner drinking water in households and communities.

The analysis outlines key questions state boards of education can ask to improve drinking water testing, communication strategies, and remediation efforts and ensure they are sustainable.

“While recent federal grants boosted funding for removal of lead from school drinking water, barriers to mitigation as well as communication hurdles underscore the need for more attention from state education policymakers,” writes author Joseph Hedger.

The work was made possible by The Joyce Foundation.

Read and share Beyond Testing for Lead in Drinking Water: Implications for Funding.

NASBE serves as the only membership organization for state boards of education. A nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, NASBE elevates state board members’ voices in national and state policymaking, facilitates the exchange of informed ideas, and supports members in advancing equity and excellence in public education for students of all races, genders, and circumstances. Learn more at www.nasbe.org.

The Joyce Foundation is a nonpartisan private foundation that invests in public policies and strategies to advance racial equity and economic mobility for the next generation in the Great Lakes region. We support policy research, development, and advocacy in five areas: Education & Economic Mobility, Environment, Gun Violence Prevention & Justice Reform, Democracy and Culture. Joyce focuses its grant making in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin, and partners with funders to explore promising policy solutions in other states or at the federal level. Learn more at www.joycefdn.org

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