Hirono among supporters of $100B school infrastructure revitalization plan
Senate Democrats are pitching a plan they hope will be a building block: a scaled-down $100 billion proposal to rebuild America’s public schools, known as the “Rebuild America’s Schools Act.”
Matt Knoedler, Washington - In 2018, President Donald Trump introduced a massive $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan that didn’t get off the ground.
During Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, Trump doubled down on the issue by urging Congress to develop a comprehensive bipartisan deal.
“(Infrastructure investment) is not an option,” Trump said. “This is a necessity.”
Now, some Senate Democrats are pitching a plan they hope will be a building block: a scaled-down $100 billion proposal to rebuild America’s public schools, known as the “Rebuild America’s Schools Act.”
“The physical environment of our schools has something to do with the children being able to learn,” said Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono, an original co-sponsor and now one of twenty Senate Democrats supporting the plan.
The act would provide federal grants and school construction bonds to states over the next decade. States would award that funding to local communities for repairs, renovations and construction projects through state matching criteria and permissible spending.
The bill follows a 2017 American Society of Civil Engineers report card that gave the nation’s schools a “D+” rating, with nearly 1-in-4 public schools rated in “fair” or “poor” condition.
“If you think about schools that were built fifty or sixty years ago and what air conditioning looked like back then, what electrical systems looked like back then, some of those systems have not been upgraded since the original construction,” said Susan Hann, an ASCE committee member leading the school’s chapter of the report card, which is produced every four years.
Hann, who works as the assistant superintendent of facilities services for Florida’s Brevard Co. Public Schools, would like any legislation to also consider funding for more than just facilities. New, modern issues such as security and updated technology also factor into a school’s ability to educate students, she said.
The biggest issue has been and will continue to be funding. Brevard Co. Public Schools faces a $700 million school facilities funding gap. The district, located in the Melbourne, Fla. area, is seeing an increasing student population. They have faced tough decisions choosing between replacing and maintaining aging schools and investing in new capacity at existing schools. The district currently serves 65,000 students in 84 buildings.
ASCE has adopted a policy statement that encourages investment in schools. You can read that policy here.
But there’s more beyond the brick and mortar in the Senate proposal, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.). The proposal also includes expanding access to high-speed broadband internet.
“We’ve had, by one estimate, 471,000 people in rural Pennsylvania with no high-speed internet,” said U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), who is also a co-sponsor. “You can’t really rebuild America without rebuilding our schools.”
The pitch has garnered support from some 2020 presidential hopefuls, including New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand, California’s Kamala Harris, and Massachusetts’s Elizabeth Warren.
“No student should be forced to learn in a classroom that’s falling apart,” Gillibrand said in a statement Wednesday. “These are important investments we need to make to help modernize our education system.”
Despite Trump’s push for unity in the State of the Union Address, not one Senate Republican has signed onto this proposal that was introduced on Jan. 29. Additionally, Republicans have yet to support the companion legislation that was introduced last week in the House.
But to get them on-board, Democrats may have to weave in one or more of Trump’s proposals from 2018: less federal funding, and more state support. That plan called for the states to provide a whopping 80 percent of the funding for the $1.5 trillion plan, one that still doesn’t sit well with most Democrats.
“(80 percent) is a total non-starter,” Hirono said.