Reed Introduces Legislation to Improve Public School Infrastructure
REED: Madam President, among the many challenges to improving educational outcomes for students and recruiting and retaining educators for our public schools is the condition of school facilities.
A 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. These systems are especially critical to safeguarding public health, as we learned during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Functioning and efficient HVAC systems and ventilation can help keep indoor air quality healthy and reduce the spread of infectious airborne viral particles.
Investing in school buildings will make them healthy and safe learning environments. It will also improve student learning, reduce carbon emissions, and create jobs. That is why I am proud to partner with Representative Bobby Scott, ranking member of the House Education and Workforce Committee, to introduce the Rebuild America's Schools Act--legislation that will invest $130 billion in fixing our schools. I would like to thank my Senate colleagues who are joining in this effort, including Senators Brown, Blumenthal, Booker, Casey, Cortez Masto, Duckworth, Durbin, Heinrich, Hirono, Klobuchar, Lujan, Markey, Merkley, Murphy, Shaheen, Smith, Stabenow, Van Hollen, and Whitehouse.
Public schools play a vital role in every community across the Nation--educating the next generation, serving as polling places for our elections, hosting community meetings and cultural events, and so much more. When there is a natural disaster or an emergency, people often gather at their public schools for shelter, information, and resources. They are essential facilities and should be treated as essential infrastructure.
Safe, healthy, modern, well-equipped schools are essential for advancing student achievement and ensuring that the next generation is prepared to meet the economic, social, environmental, and global challenges our Nation faces. Yet too many of the over 50 million students and 6 million staff who learn and work in our public schools spend their days in facilities that fail to make the grade. In fact, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave public school buildings across the country an overall grade of D+ in its latest report card. The 2021 State of our Schools Report identified an $85 billion annual shortfall in school facilities investment.
States and local communities cannot bridge this gap alone, especially when many struggle to simply keep teachers and staff on the payroll. We know that budget shortfalls hit low-income and minority communities the hardest. The GAO noted that capital construction expenditures, on average, were about $300 less per student in high-poverty districts compared to low-poverty districts. With inflation, interest rates, and extreme weather events on the rise, the gap between what is needed to maintain safe and modern schools and what communities can afford will only grow. Addressing this need with robust Federal investment is not only the right thing to do for our students; it will also give a needed boost to our economy, putting people to work in family--sustaining jobs. According to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, every $1 billion spent on construction generates 17,785 jobs.
The Rebuild America's Schools Act will create a Federal-State partnership for school infrastructure. It will provide, over 5 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 2 million jobs.
Specifically, the 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. Our legislation would also provide $30 billion for qualified school infrastructure bonds, QSIBs, $10 billion each year from FY 2023 through FY 2025, 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 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.
I would like to thank the broad coalition of educators, community organizations, unions, civil rights advocates, and employers that have provided feedback and support for this legislation, including the 21st Century Schools Fund, A4LE: the Association for Learning Environments, AASA: The School Superintendents Association, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, American Federation of Teachers, American Industrial Hygiene Association, American Institute of Architects, BASIC Coalition, Council of the Great City Schools, Heart of America, International Unions of Bricklayers and Allied Craft Workers, National Association of Energy Service Companies, National Association of Federally Impacted Schools, National Council on School Facilities, National Education Association, Rebuild America's Schools Coalition, Safe Traces, Teach Plus, and the U.S. Green Building Council.
We have no time to waste in fixing our deteriorating school infrastructure. In the words of a student activist in Providence, Rhode Island: ``Students cannot learn in a crumbling building, a school that isn't fit to uplift our minds.'' We need to listen to our students, strengthen our communities, and improve our school buildings. I urge all of our colleagues to support the Rebuild America's Schools Act and press for its passage.