August 07, 2023
Education and infrastructure leaders propose legislation that would create a $130B fund to help rebuild public schools nationwide
U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) joined Senator Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and U.S. Representative Bobby Scott (D-Va.) in unveiling a bicameral proposal that would target new federal infrastructure funding to help local school districts address school building and modernization needs.
The Rebuild America’s Schools Act of 2023 would improve public school infrastructure and environments to ensure school facilities are safe, healthy, sustainable, and offer positive learning environments for all students. The bill will create a federal-state partnership for school infrastructure. It will provide, over five 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. The money and financing would be available to local school districts and would be targeted to physical and digital infrastructure upgrades, with an emphasis on schools of greatest need with facilities that pose health and safety risks to students and staff.
“We must ensure that our students and educators have modern school buildings and facilities that support their success rather than rundown infrastructure that hinders progress. This legislation will help bring our schools and classrooms into the 21st century, ensuring that they don’t stand in the way of our children’s opportunity to receive a quality education,” said Senator Van Hollen.
“Improving school infrastructure is critical to the health, safety, and well-being of America’s students and our communities. Investing in school infrastructure is a moral and economic imperative. The Rebuild America’s Schools Act would provide dedicated, long-term investments in improving America’s schools and ensuring every student can learn in a safe, healthy, modern classroom. Passing this bill would help improve school facilities, put more people to work, and improve student academic outcomes,” said Senator Reed.
“Chronic neglect of America’s public schools has forced students and teachers across the country to learn and work in outdated and hazardous school buildings. Moreover, dilapidated and poorly ventilated school facilities pose significant health threats that make it harder for teachers to teach and students to learn,” said Congressman Scott. “The Rebuild America’s Schools Act invests $130 billion in our nation’s physical and digital infrastructure, improves students’ academic recovery efforts, and creates more than 2 million jobs over the next five years. It is far past time to improve public education infrastructure.”
For decades, school infrastructure has been underfunded. National spending for K-12 school buildings falls short by an estimated $85 billion annually, according to a 2021 analysis by the 21st Century School Fund. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports 54 percent of U.S. school districts need to update or completely replace multiple building systems in their schools, according to a 2020 analysis.
According to Maryland’s Interagency Commission on School Construction 2022 Annual Report, the average age of school facilities in the state is 31 years. Baltimore City Public Schools has the greatest share of aging school buildings. A Johns Hopkins study found that Baltimore children collectively lost 1.5 million hours of instruction between 2014-2019 due to poor conditions of school buildings.
To improve America’s school infrastructure, 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.
The bill would also provide $30 billion for qualified school infrastructure bonds (QSIBs), $10 billion each year from fiscal years 2023 through 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.
Newer, greener schools are also good for local budgets because renewable energy and energy efficient upgrades can save school districts money that can be reinvested in after-school and summer programs, and the recruitment, hiring, and retention of highly-qualified teachers.
This legislation also builds on the U.S. Department of Energy’s $500 million Renew America’s Schools grant program, funded by the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which Senator Van Hollen fought to pass. The program supports energy improvement projects in high-need K–12 schools, improving the schools’ energy efficiency, lowering their energy costs, and shrinking their carbon footprint. Senator Van Hollen was an original cosponsor of the Rebuild America’s Schools Act at its initial introduction in the Senate in 2019 and then, again, in 2021. Senator Van Hollen also recently announced over $1 million through the Renew America’s Schools grant program to help Baltimore County’s Watershed Public Charter School upgrade its facility to improve the learning environment, air quality, and health outcomes for students and staff.
In addition to Senator Van Hollen, the bill, led by Senator Reed and Congressman Scott, is cosponsored by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).
SUMMARY – The Rebuild America’s Schools Act would:
- Create a $100 billion grant program and $30 billion tax credit bond program targeted at high-poverty schools with 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.
- Develop a comprehensive national database on the condition of public school facilities; such a national database currently does not exist and would provide much-needed insight into the condition of our public schools.
- Leverage existing public programs or public-private partnerships to continue to improve high-speed broadband access that public schools need for digital learning.
The legislation is endorsed by a broad coalition of organizations, including: [Re]Build America’s School Infrastructure Coalition (BASIC); 21st Century School Fund; A4LE: The Association for Learning Environments; American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME); American Federation of Teachers; American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA); American Institute of Architects; American School Superintendents Association (AASA); Council of the Great City Schools; Heart of America; International Unions of Bricklayers and Allied Craft Workers; National Association of Energy Service Companies (NAESCO); National Association of Federally Impacted Schools (NAFIS); National Council on School Facilities; National Education Association; Rebuild America’s Schools Coalition; Safe Traces; and the U.S. Green Building Council.