House Democrats’ infrastructure package, the Moving Forward Act, includes the text of the Reopen and Rebuild America’s Schools Act which would authorize $130 billion over five years to fund infrastructure improvements for the Nation’s public schools. The Act would prioritize high-poverty schools with targeted funding for inadequate facilities that endanger the health and safety of students and educators. ASCE’s 2017 Infrastructure Report Card gave our nation’s schools a D+ noting that the nation continues to underinvest in school facilities, leaving an estimated $38 billion annual gap.
The Reopen and Rebuild America’s Schools Act of 2020 would:
- Authorize an Investment of $100 billion in grants and $30 billion in bond authority targeted at high-poverty schools with facilities that pose health and safety risks to students and staff;
- Create over two million jobs based on an Economic Policy Institute analysis that each $1 billion spent on construction creates 17,785 jobs;
- Allocate 2020 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;
- Develop a comprehensive national database on the condition of public school facilities noting that such a national database currently does not exist 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.
In support of the inclusion of the Reopen and Rebuild America’s Schools Act into the Moving America Forward Act, House Democratic leaders noted that crumbling school facilities pose significant health and safety threats to more than 50 million students and three million teachers in public schools. Without major repairs, many school districts will struggle to meet reopening guidelines established by the CDC.
Bill sponsor’s cited a June 2020 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the state of school infrastructure which found that 54 percent of school districts across the country must replace or update major systems in more than half of their buildings. One of the main conclusions of the GAO report was that 41 percent of school districts reported the need to update or replace heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems in half their schools. In guidance to school districts, CDC advises that ensuring “ventilation systems operate properly” is a key consideration for schools seeking to reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bill sponsors also noted that the GAO report was the first on the subject since 1996. This echoed the concerns raised by ASCE in the 2017 Infrastructure Report Card which also noted a lack of ongoing data collection on the status of the nation’s schools. This lack of comprehensive data at the national, state, and even local level creates a challenge for school decision makers as they seek to fund, plan, construct, and maintain quality school facilities.
ASCE is pleased that the Moving Forward Act contains significant investments to our nation’s public schools. Since the first ASCE Infrastructure Report Card in 1998, ASCE has identified and advocated the importance on investing in the Nation’s public schools’ infrastructure.