Schools Needed Cooler Air Long Before Heat Last Week

Chris Powell


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Most people in authority who grew up in Connecticut went through elementary, middle, and high school without air-conditioning and experienced how uncomfortable classes could get when days in late spring and early fall got unseasonably warm. 

So during last week’s heat wave no one should have been surprised that temperatures in many classrooms, especially in the cities, got impossibly hot and humid and some schools closed. Whereupon many people began to wonder why Connecticut’s school air-conditioning and ventilation problem had not yet been better addressed.

A survey of the state’s schools two years ago found that about 40% had air-conditioning systems. But they have not always been working and seem to be especially troublesome in New Haven’s schools, whose students, most of whom are from impoverished households, need school the most but are the most chronically absent. They won’t be encouraged to return by sweltering classrooms.

In recent years state government has appropriated about $400 million in aid to municipalities for improving air-conditioning and ventilation in schools. But partly for bureaucratic reasons, putting the money to work has been slow, and some of the municipalities whose schools most need the improvements do not have the most competent governments.


For example, a few years ago the City Council in Hartford, a city on the verge of bankruptcy whose sewage system in its poorest neighborhood had broken down, decided that the city’s most urgent need was a minor-league baseball stadium. The council concluded that the sewage system could wait, along with air-conditioning and ventilation in city schools, and hurled itself into the stadium project, which soon became a disaster when the city fired the contractor. 

Another contractor built the stadium but the cost went way up and the first contractor’s lawsuit has been found to have merit and could cost the city millions more.

Astoundingly, state government quickly endorsed the City Council’s mistaken priorities, assuming most of Hartford’s long-term debt and thereby essentially reimbursing the city for the stadium and choosing against sanitation and education.

Of course Connecticut’s schools suffered during late-spring and early-fall heat waves long after air-conditioning was invented and long before the Hartford stadium debacle. Back then state government decided that hundreds of other projects were more deserving of direct appropriations and bonding. 

But maybe not all state government’s priorities were wrong at that time. For years ago, when most students in Connecticut were reliably attending school and learning, governors, state legislators, and municipal officials could have thought that a few days of schooling lost to heat waves each year were acceptable.

Not today as education in the state has been crashing even as spending has kept rising without improving learning.


At least under Governor Lamont the current state administration has done the most about improving school air-conditioning and ventilation, even if more needs to be done, as noted ironically last week by Kate Dias, the president of the state’s largest teachers union, the Connecticut Education Association. Dias lamented the loss of so many days of schooling during the heat wave.

That loss of school was nothing compared to the loss suffered by students in Connecticut and throughout the country since the Covid-19 virus epidemic began in 2020 and schools were closed largely under the pressure of the CEA and other teacher unions.

The epidemic was not underway long before it was noticed that young people were not much affected by the virus and that suspension of their education might harm them more than the virus. So teachers should have been declared “essential workers,” just as essential as police officers and grocery clerks. Instead government declared teachers royalty and instructed them to stay home at full pay and try to teach via the internet.

“Remote learning” was a disaster, especially for students who were already behind in their schooling. Many now are suffering behavioral problems and may never catch up. But since teachers will share the benefits of air-conditioning, they consider it more urgent than they recently considered education itself.


Chris Powell has written about Connecticut government and politics for many years. (