Reed Seeks $100B in Federal Dollars to Help Upgrade R.I., America's Schools

Thu February 14, 2019 - Northeast Edition #4
Office of U.S. Senator Jack Reed


Rebuild America’s Schools Act is a proposal to invest $100 billion in the physical and digital infrastructure of schools across America.
Rebuild America’s Schools Act is a proposal to invest $100 billion in the physical and digital infrastructure of schools across America.

Citing the direct connection between learning and learning environment and noting the importance of public education to the future of our economy, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) joined a broad coalition of educators, business, community and civil rights leaders and representatives from the building trades to unveil the Rebuild America's Schools Act, a proposal to invest $100 billion in the physical and digital infrastructure of schools across America.

Currently, the federal government only covers school repair costs in cases of disasters. A 2016 "State of Our Schools" report found that, collectively, the United States is spending $46 billion less annually on school construction and maintenance than is necessary to ensure safe and healthy public school facilities.

Senator Reed's bill (S. 266), which is being introduced along with an identical bill in the House by Congressman Bobby Scott (VA-03), chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor, would provide $100 billion in federal grants and school construction bonds over the next decade to help build and renovate schools. In turn, the bill would create more than 1.9 million good-paying jobs.

"In his last State of the Union Speech, President Trump urged ‘both parties to come together to give us the safe, fast, reliable, and modern infrastructure our economy needs and our people deserve.' And we hope he will heed those words and include school infrastructure as part of the equation. Because rebuilding and modernizing public schools will boost student achievement, grow our economy, and pay dividends for future generations," said Reed, the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD).

"Many schools were built over half a century ago and the state of America's school infrastructure today is not as strong as it should be. The Rebuild America's Schools Act will help change that by providing a steady source of federal funds to help local schools catch up on overdue repairs, renovation and new construction. We need to start responsibly investing today in order to help build the classrooms of tomorrow."

At the state level, Rhode Island voters approved a historic $250 million general bond obligation to help upgrade schools. But that is well short of the $627 million needed to reach the "warm, safe, and dry" criteria for Rhode Island public schools and just a fraction of the $2.2 billion in building deficiencies the state identified it needs to address the school infrastructure crisis.

Rhode Island is not alone: the American Society of Civil Engineers gave public school buildings across the country an overall grade of D+ in their 2017 report card.

"The scope of this crisis is more than states or communities can address on their own. Every office holder on both sides of the aisle and every business person says education is the key to our economic future. We can't afford to neglect public schools and underinvest in school infrastructure because allowing schools to deteriorate will lead to economic decay. The federal government can and should be a partner in upgrading our public school facilities," said Reed. "Revitalizing schools will help students succeed in the classroom, create good-paying jobs and lay the foundation for America's future economic success."

The Reed-Scott bill provides formula funds to states for local competitive grants for school repair, renovation and construction. These grants focus assistance on communities with the greatest financial need, encourage green construction practices, expand access to high-speed broadband to ensure that all students have access to digital learning, contain state matching criteria and outline permissible criteria for spending. The bill also:

  • Provides $30 billion for Qualified School Infrastructure Bonds (QSIBs), $10 billion each for FY 2020 through FY 2022.
  • Invests in American jobs by requiring the use of American-made iron, steel, and manufactured products.
  • Reinstates and expands Qualified Zone Academy Bonds (QZABs) for use on school construction.
  • Requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to report on projects carried out within two years after enactment with periodic updates.
  • Ensures a comprehensive study of the physical condition of public schools at least once every five years.
  • Provides a temporary increase of $170 million for Impact Aid construction.