February 01, 2021

Van Hollen, Cardin Seek $130B Nationwide Funding Boost for Local School Infrastructure

As of 2020, Just 17% of Baltimore City Schools were Found to be in “Good” or “Superior” Condition

Today, U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin (both D-MD) joined Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and 24 of their Senate colleagues in introducing the Reopen and Rebuild America’s Schools Act, legislation to invest $130 billion in modernizing classrooms across the country and would help schools upgrade their physical and digital infrastructure. 

“We can’t expect our students to learn when the walls are crumbling around them, the heat won’t turn on, and the technology in their classrooms is older than they are. Investing in our school infrastructure is an investment in our students – and it’s long overdue. As students transition back into the classrooms, we must address our inadequate school infrastructure and commit to providing the resources necessary to fix this problem in Maryland and across our country,” said Senator Van Hollen.

“This critical legislation will provide resources necessary to meet our immediate needs to provide a safe learning environment for students, educators, and school staff to return to, in addition to making long-term investments in new school construction, rehabilitation, and repair,” said Senator Cardin, Chairman of the Environment & Public Works Committee Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee. “For far too long, lagging school infrastructure investments have left school children across our state in classrooms without heating or air conditioning, proper ventilation, and inadequate broadband infrastructure. If enacted, this bill can accelerate efforts underway by the State of Maryland under the Built to Learn Act 2020 that was enacted last year to dramatically improve Maryland school facilities statewide. Our children deserve nothing less.” 

Local school districts are facing increased costs, aging school infrastructure, and an urgent need for schools and classrooms to alleviate crowded classrooms and ensure adequate fresh air ventilation to help reduce COVID-19 transmission. According to Johns Hopkins data, as of 2020, at least 97 of 165 schools in Baltimore City had HVAC components that were overdue for replacement, and just 17% of City schools were found to be in “good” or “superior” condition. Crumbling, outdated school infrastructure makes it tougher for students, teachers, and staff to safely return to school for in-person instruction. Comprehensive school modernization planning is a critical component in helping post-pandemic K-12 schools become stronger and more sustainable than before the COVID-19 crisis.

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.  A June 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.  

“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 this is a smart investment in raising student achievement, protecting public health, expanding opportunities, and creating good-paying jobs,” said Senator Reed.  “There is a clear and urgent need to upgrade our schools.  Deferring needed maintenance and improvements will only increase costs to taxpayers.  With interest rates at historic lows, now is the time to invest and bolster education, economic development, and smart growth.  This legislation offers a concrete plan to improve schools nationwide and spur additional education spending by states and communities through various cost-effective financial incentives.  To drive our economy forward, federal infrastructure investment must encompass more than just roads, bridges, and highways, and also include vital community anchors like schools and libraries.”     

The bill will create a federal-state partnership for school infrastructure.  It will provide, over ten 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.  Specifically, the Reopen and 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 2022 through 2024, 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 Reopen and 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. 

SUMMARY - The Reopen and Rebuild America’s Schools Act would:

  • Invest $100 billion in grants and $30 billion in bond authority targeted at public schools with high need and 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;
  • Allocate 2022 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; 
  • Require states to develop comprehensive state-wide public databases on the condition of public-school facilities; most states do not track school facility conditions 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. 

Joining Senators Van Hollen, Cardin and Reed as cosponsors of the bill are Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Tina Smith (D-MN), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Bob Casey (D-PA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Christopher Coons (D-DE), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).

House Education and Labor Chairman, Bobby Scott (D-VA), introduced the bicameral version of this legislation and was joined by 145 members, including Representatives Ruppersberger, Sarbanes, Brown, Trone, and Raskin (all D-MD).