JOHNSTON, RI – In an effort to rebuild and modernize public schools, boost student achievement, and grow our economy, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), the Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD), today joined with Governor Gina M. Raimondo, Treasurer Seth Magaziner, Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena, RI Education Commissioner Dr. Ken Wagner, and state and education leaders in urging President Trump to create a federal-state partnership to invest in the infrastructure of the nation’s public schools.
Senator Reed joined local leaders and education officials at Johnston High School -- which had to dismiss students and close for the day earlier this week due to heating problems -- to outline his plan to provide states with public school modernization funds.
“We’re here because we understand that we’ve got to have safe and healthy schools for Rhode Island,” said Senator Reed, whose father was a school custodian. “This bill is for the welfare of the children and for the future of this state and country. We know if you don’t have good schools, you can’t get a good education. I believe that federal government needs to partner with local and state government when it comes to fixing schools, and I’m working on a bipartisan basis to include school infrastructure as part of the infrastructure bill. We need clean, healthy, well-equipped schools in order for this generation to meet the challenges of the future: social, environmental, economic, and global. It’s the right thing to do and it will lead to success for us as individuals and communities and help us remain leaders in the world.”
Reed’s legislation -- the School Building Improvement Act—would authorize federal resources for capital improvements of public schools and he wants to include the legislation in a national infrastructure spending plan. Reed’s initiative would help provide $100 billion in federal grants and school construction bonds over the next decade to help build and renovate schools. By providing states with grants and low-cost bonds to meet their school construction and modernization needs, it would help strengthen communities, especially those in underserved areas, and support an estimated 1.8 million jobs nationwide, while also laying the foundation for better schools, smart growth, and a brighter future.
The American Society of Civil Engineers recently gave public school buildings an overall grade of D+ in their 2017 report card, and found that about one in four of the country’s school buildings are in fair or poor condition. The study also highlighted a funding gap of $38 billion between what schools are and should be spending to renew facilities.
In Rhode Island, a state-sponsored study found that public schools across the state will need about $2.2 billion in repairs or upgrades in the coming years to bring all 306 of Rhode Island’s public schools into a state of good condition, with over $627 million identified as urgent needs.
The average age for a school in Rhode is 56 years.
During the event, Governor Raimondo stated: “Here in Rhode Island, we’re taking this issue seriously. We have over a billion dollars of need to rebuild our school buildings. Too many of our school buildings get a failing grade, and don’t pass the basic standard of warm, safe, and dry. We’re going to be judged by what we do for our kids and the promises and dreams we have for them. This is a great investment that puts people to work and prepares our kids for 21st-century jobs, and we in Rhode Island are going to do our part, and together we’ll make Rhode Island stronger.”
Governor Raimondo, Treasurer Magaziner, and Commissioner Wagner have been holding listening sessions across the state to develop an action plan for addressing school facilities. They also established a School Buildings Task Force that has recommended that the state spend $500 million in state bonds for school construction and repair.
“It’s no secret that many of us in this room have aging school buildings,” said Mayor Polisena. “This federal bill proposed would infuse much-needed funding into our communities, and provide as many as 1.8 million construction jobs. We have to make sure teachers and students have the tools we need, and that includes buildings. Ensuring that our schools are safe, comfortable environments is paramount when it comes to helping children learn.”
Although the Trump Administration has yet to produce a detailed blueprint, the President has repeatedly indicated general interest in a $1 trillion national infrastructure spending program.