This guest editorial is by K.C. Golden, Policy Director for Climate Solutions, a research and advocacy organization working for practical solutions to global warming.

What’s a kid supposed to think?  Class sizes are rising; jobs are scarce; education and health care budgets are being slashed; and the United States of America—alone among the world’s advanced economies – has no national climate and energy policy to protect against catastrophic global warming.

What is UP with the adults, anyway? Didn’t they read the bold print in the intergenerational contract—the part that requires grownups to leave their kids a decent future?

We can send our kids a different message. Referendum 52, the Healthy Schools Initiative, gives us an opportunity to build the kind of future they deserve.  If it passes, public schools across Washington will be able to upgrade their facilities—making schools safer, healthier, and more energy efficient. (The fine print: R-52 would make permanent the sales tax on bottled water, extending the state's bonding capacity to provide more than $500 million for school retrofits, enabling school districts to leverage up to $2 billion to fund green construction jobs.)

Building these healthier schools will not only create better learning environments for kids, it’ll create tens of thousands of good new construction jobs. By making schools more energy efficient, Ref. 52 will reduce the emissions that cause lung disease and climate disruption, while keeping energy dollars in our local economies instead of shipping them out of state to pay for fossil fuels. And the financial savings from reduced energy and maintenance costs can be used to pay for improvements in education: better curriculum, new books and computers, smaller classes.

Have you ever walked through a lousy, drafty, unhealthy public school building on a school day?  Cramming our kids into oversized classes in buildings with buzzing lights and leaky toilets sends a terrible message. My kids went to a school like that, but their school just re-opened after a two-year renovation.  he new building is clean, safe, efficient and well-lit. The kids are noticeably happier and more productive—proud of their new digs. As a parent, I can walk into the place with my head held high, knowing that my kids are spending their days in a place that says: “We believe in you, and we’re investing in your future.”

And what does it say to our kids when their school buildings—places that should be all about creating a healthier, smarter future—have obsolete, energy-hogging lights, drafty windows, and clunky old heating systems?  Why should we continue to pour school budgets down a rat-hole of energy waste year after year, when school districts don’t have enough money for basic educational necessities like teacher training and books? In science class, kids learn that fossil fuel dependence is causing global warming, which increases the frequency of extreme, catastrophic weather events. If you learn that information in a classroom that uses three times more energy than it should, you really have to wonder whether the adults have got your back.

R-52 is a win-win proposition—it’s hard to argue with energy-saving investments that pay for themselves, create jobs, and improve our kids’ health and education. But some have raised questions about whether the state should be issuing new bonds to pay for these investments when the budget is are so tight. That’s a fair concern, but if we fail to make these investments now, taxpayers will keep paying more and getting less. Instead of investing in healthy, efficient schools, we’d pay mounting energy and maintenance costs, year after year, to send our kids off to school in buildings that just keep getting worse. With R-52, we’ll reap annual dividends in the form of lower operating costs—dividends that can be reinvested in our kids’ education.

The financial savings alone would justify investing in healthy schools. But the return on these investments is much bigger than dollars and cents.

Let’s be real: We’re sending our kids some mixed messages about our commitment to their future.  You can’t blame them for wondering: Will we provide them with a good education in a healthy learning environment? Will we free ourselves from the crippling economic and environmental impacts of fossil fuel dependence and take control of our energy future? Will we do what’s right and necessary to leave them a brighter tomorrow?

Sending them to healthy schools every day is a great way to say “Yes.”