Reed, Democrats Seek $130B Funding Boost for Local School Infrastructure
WASHINGTON, DC -- Outdated school buildings in poor condition are barriers to a good education. With local school districts facing increased costs, aging school infrastructure, and an urgent need for schools and classrooms to alleviate crowded classrooms and ensure adequate fresh air ventilation to help reduce COVID-19 transmission, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) today led Senate Democrats in introducing the Reopen and Rebuild America’s Schools Act. The bill would invest $130 billion in modernizing classrooms across the country and would help schools upgrade their physical and digital infrastructure.
Crumbling, outdated school infrastructure makes it tougher for students, teachers, and staff to safely return to school for in-person instruction. Comprehensive school modernization planning is a critical component of helping post-pandemic K-12 schools become stronger and more sustainable than before the COVID-19 crisis.
During the Great Depression, the federal government, through the Works Progress Administration, financed nearly 4,400 new schools and renovated thousands of other public school facilities between 1935 and 1940. But today, most of the nation’s schools are more than 50 years old and in need of repairs. A June 2020 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found 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.
“There is a critical need for new federal investment in school infrastructure. Public schools are essential institutions -- they are foundational to our democracy and cornerstones of our economy. They educate and prepare children to achieve their full potential and serve as community hubs. Public schools are public infrastructure and this is a smart investment in raising student achievement, protecting public health, expanding opportunities, and creating good-paying jobs,” said Senator Reed. “There is a clear and urgent need to upgrade our schools. Deferring needed maintenance and improvements will only increase costs to taxpayers. With interest rates at historic lows, now is the time to invest and bolster education, economic development, and smart growth. This legislation offers a concrete plan to improve schools nationwide and spur additional education spending by states and communities through various cost-effective financial incentives. To drive our economy forward, federal infrastructure investment must encompass more than just roads, bridges, and highways, and also include vital community anchors like schools and libraries.”
To help schools finance capital improvements, 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 bicameral Reopen and Rebuild America’s School Act of 2021.
The bill will create a federal-state partnership for school infrastructure. It will provide, over ten years, a total of $130 billion in direct grants and school construction bonds to help fill the annual gap in school facility capital needs, while creating nearly two million jobs.
Specifically, the Reopen and Rebuild America’s Schools Act will provide $100 billion in formula funds to states for local competitive grants for school repair, renovation, and construction. States will focus assistance on communities with the greatest financial need, encourage green construction practices, and expand access to high-speed broadband to ensure that all students have access to digital learning.
The bill would also provide $30 billion for qualified school infrastructure bonds (QSIBs), $10 billion each year from fiscal years 2022 through 2024, and restore the Qualified Zone Academy Bonds (QZABS) that were eliminated in the Republican Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The legislation also eases the matching requirements and expands the authority and eligible purposes of QZABS to allow local education agencies to construct, rehabilitate, retrofit, or repair school facilities.
The Reopen and Rebuild America’s Schools Act also supports American workers by ensuring that projects use American-made iron, steel, and manufactured products and meet labor standards.
In the Senate, the bill is cosponsored by U.S. Senators: Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Tina Smith (D-MN), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Bob Casey (D-PA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Christopher Coons (D-DE), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).
SUMMARY - The Reopen and Rebuild America’s Schools Act would:
- Invest $100 billion in grants and $30 billion in bond authority targeted at public schools with high need and facilities that pose health and safety risks to students and staff;
- Create over 2 million jobs based on an Economic Policy Institute analysis that each $1 billion spent on construction creates 17,785 jobs;
- Allocate 2022 program dollars on an emergency basis to aid in safely reopening public schools in line with Centers for Disease Control (CDC) public health guidelines—such as for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems;
- Require states to develop comprehensive state-wide public databases on the condition of public-school facilities; most states do not track school facility conditions and would provide much-needed insight into the condition of our public schools; and
- Expand access to high-speed broadband to ensure that public schools have the reliable and high-speed Internet access they need for digital learning.