In a world grappling with the impacts of climate change, there’s one place where the heat is hitting the hardest, and that’s our schools. The HVAC industry faces a monumental challenge as about half of Milwaukee Public Schools buildings, and thousands more across the nation, lack adequate air conditioning. This oversight is jeopardizing the education of our children and causing distressing learning loss. Here’s what we know and why it’s high time for the HVAC industry to step up and find a solution.

The Scorching Reality

Imagine sending your child to school, hoping they’ll learn and thrive. Instead, they return home with headaches, feeling overheated and unwell. For many parents like Melissa Pacheco, this scenario is far too familiar. Her frustration grew when her attempts to push for air conditioning investments were overlooked in favor of recreational equipment. The absence of central air conditioning in schools, like Academia de Lenguaje y Bellas Artes in Milwaukee, leaves students struggling to concentrate in stifling classrooms.

An Unaddressed Crisis

Milwaukee Public Schools recognized the challenge of keeping classrooms cool long before the pandemic. However, despite receiving significant federal relief funding, the district has yet to allocate resources to retrofit or replace outdated buildings with air conditioning. The result is a stark divide between schools with comfortable, air-conditioned classrooms and those without. This inequity negatively impacts students’ ability to learn and exacerbates learning loss, particularly among Black and Latino students.

The High Cost of Inaction

The cost of retrofitting older buildings with air conditioning systems has been a significant hurdle. Estimates range from $1.5 million to $2.5 million per building, which can quickly add up to staggering figures. Despite advocates hoping that pandemic funding would bring relief, the actual cost has been daunting, potentially exceeding $1 billion. With 41% of school districts nationwide needing HVAC system updates or replacements, the challenge extends far beyond Milwaukee.

A Health Crisis

The consequences of hot and uncomfortable classrooms extend beyond mere discomfort. Research shows that unhealthy classroom temperatures can lead to headaches, fatigue, and respiratory symptoms. Students, especially young children, are disproportionately affected. Additionally, asthma rates rise in areas with excessive heat, leading to increased absenteeism. Milwaukee, for instance, is one of the most challenging places in the country to live with asthma, affecting children’s attendance and performance.

Hope on the Horizon

While the situation may seem dire, other school districts across the country have taken proactive steps to address the issue. Fond du Lac School District in Wisconsin passed a $7 million referendum to add air conditioning in eight buildings. Boston Public Schools retrofitted numerous schools with window air conditioning units, and Detroit plans to install or improve air conditioning in all schools by 2027. Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont established a grant program to fund public school HVAC upgrades.


The HVAC industry cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the crisis unfolding in our schools. The lack of adequate air conditioning is causing learning loss, health problems, and educational inequality. As temperatures continue to rise due to climate change, it’s imperative that we find sustainable and cost-effective solutions to cool our classrooms. Let’s prioritize our children’s education and well-being by investing in air conditioning systems that create a conducive learning environment. It’s time for the HVAC industry to step up and lead the way in securing a brighter future for our students.

TL;DR: Many Milwaukee public schools lack air conditioning, affecting students’ learning and health. The HVAC industry must address this issue as outdated buildings and limited funding create a crisis. Inequities in air conditioning access worsen educational disparities. Schools across the nation are taking action, but more needs to be done to provide comfortable learning environments for all students.


Wisconsin Watch