WASHINGTON, DC - Outdated school buildings in poor condition are barriers to a good education and a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) shows that over half (54 percent) of school districts nationwide need to update or replace multiple systems in their schools, such as heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC), or plumbing.  The report, “K-12 Education: School Districts Frequently Identified Multiple Building Systems Needing Updates or Replacement,” also found that school districts surveyed feel they need to make structural improvements to security (an estimated 92 percent), expanding student access to technology (87 percent), and monitoring health hazards (78 percent).

GAO’s study also confirmed that high-poverty schools are more likely to rely on state funding to cover the cost of building repairs compared to low-poverty schools, which were more likely to fund projects through local property taxes.  With states facing heightened budgetary pressures and shortfalls due to COVID-19, high-poverty schools are likely to face even heavier financial challenges and burdens.

U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), who requested the GAO study, says the non-partisan report underscores the urgent need to improve school infrastructure and facilities nationwide.

“Infrastructure deficits are a clear barrier to schools being able to safely welcome students back in the fall and ensure that there are contingency plans in place so that all students continue to learn and thrive even if in-person classes are interrupted to protect public health.  Poor HVAC systems, lack of technology, and inadequate classroom space will only make it harder to get kids back to school.  We need a robust national investment in school infrastructure now more than ever.”

Senator Reed teamed up with U.S Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA), the Chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor Committee, to introduce the Rebuild America’s School Act (S. 266), which would provide $100 billion for school infrastructure.  

Chairman Scott and Senator Reed’s proposal would create a ten-year, $70 billion grant program and a $30 billion tax credit bond program to fix crumbling public schools, build new schools, and upgrade the physical and digital infrastructure of public schools across America.

Senator Reed has also pushed for including an investment in school infrastructure as part of a future COVID-19 recovery package.  In April, he led a letter to Senate leadership urging that upgrading and modernizing school facilities be included in the legislation.

SUMMARY - The Rebuild America’s Schools Act (S. 266):

Provides formula funds to states for local competitive grants for school repair, renovation, and construction. These grants focus assistance on communities with the greatest financial need, encourage green construction practices, expand access to high-speed broadband to ensure that all students have access to digital learning. contain state matching criteria, and outline permissible criteria for spending.

The bill also:

  • Provides $30 billion for Qualified School Infrastructure Bonds (QSIBs), $10 billion each for FY 2020 through FY 2022.
  • Invests in American jobs by requiring the use of American-made iron, steel, and manufactured products.
  • Reinstates and Expands Qualified Zone Academy Bonds (QZABs) for use on school construction.
  • Requires GAO to report on projects carried out within two years after enactment with periodic updates.
  • Creates a comprehensive study of the physical condition of public schools at least once every five years.
  • Provides a temporary increase of $100 million for Impact Aid construction.