WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) joined Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and U.S. Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA), the Chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor Committee, to introduce the bicameral Reopen and Rebuild America’s School Act of 2021. The bill would invest $130 billion in modernizing K-12 classrooms across the country and would help schools upgrade their physical and digital infrastructure.
Crumbling, outdated school infrastructure makes it tougher for students, teachers, and staff to safely return to school for in-person instruction.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 of helping post-pandemic K-12 schools become stronger and more sustainable than before the COVID-19 crisis.
During the Great Depression, the federal government 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 surveyed nationwide, including those in New Mexico, need to update or replace multiple systems in their schools, such as heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC), or plumbing.
"Creating healthier learning environments for students and educators is the right thing to do in the context of safely reopening our schools during this pandemic. But it is also one of the surest investments we can make in the long-term health of our kids, and their teachers and support staff. I am proud to support this bill alongside the Keeping Kids Safe Act, legislation I plan on reintroducing to provide schools with funding and support to improve their indoor spaces by replacing their air filtration and ventilation systems. I will keep doing all I can to help our kids grow and learn in safe environments," said Heinrich.
“New Mexico’s children deserve a safe and modern learning environment that empowers them to reach their full potential. However, many of our nation’s schools are in desperate need of repairs or renovations,” said Luján. “By making strong investments in school infrastructure and broadband expansion, this legislation makes a down payment on our students’ future, protects the health of children and teachers, and creates good-paying jobs in the United States.”
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.
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.