2/07/2020 — 

WASHINGTON, DC – Outdated school buildings in poor condition are barriers to a good education.  It will take significant public investment and bipartisan commitment to improving education to fix public schools in need of repair and build new ones to serve all students.

This week, U.S. Senator Jack Reed’s plan to improve public schools and modernize classrooms across the country got a significant boost that would go a long way toward upgrading schools in Rhode Island and nationwide.  Leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives announced they plan to add Reed’ school infrastructure framework to a major infrastructure bill.

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.  Now, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is announcing that the Reed-Scott language will be included  in a $760 billion, five-year infrastructure package.

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.

Addressing the need to invest in America’s school infrastructure, Speaker Pelosi recently noted: “We tell children that education is important, they should study, it’s important to their own self-fulfillment and to that of our country, and yet we send some of them to schools that are so substandard that it sends a different message.”

A 2016 “State of Our Schools” report found that collectively, the United States is spending $46 billion less annually on school construction and maintenance than is necessary to ensure safe and healthy public school facilities.

“I commend Speaker Pelosi and Chairman Scott for advancing our plan to upgrade America’s schools.  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 we should invest in them just as we invest in roads and bridges,” said Senator Reed, the Ranking Member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development (THUD).

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.

The Rhode Island School Building Task Force issued a study showing $627 million is needed to reach the “warm, safe and dry” criteria for Rhode Island public schools and found that $2.2 billion would be needed to bring schools to good condition.  In November, Rhode Islanders voted in favor of a plan to invest $250 million to upgrade school buildings across the state.  And Pawtucket voters overwhelmingly approved “Question 4,” a city bond plan to invest millions in local schools.  Statewide, Governor Gina Raimondo and Treasurer Seth Magaziner have announced plans to invest $1 billion in school infrastructure over the next decade.

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 the Government Accountability Office (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.