President Trump just released his big plan to overhaul the country’s crumbling infrastructure, allocating $200 billion in federal funds that he hopes will stimulate more than $1.5 trillion in new public and private investment.
(For the purposes of this post, we will ignore the Democratic finding that his 2019 proposed budget also calls for more than $240 billion in federal funding cuts to current infrastructure programs, which is more than he proposes spending on new infrastructure.)
Trump’s infrastructure blueprint says nothing directly about repairing or replacing crumbling public schools in cities, suburbs and rural areas. Education Week notes here that there are “a few pieces of the proposal that could leave room for school construction funding” but that those would require a decision by the administration to make schools a target of the funding.
In this post, Mary Filardo, executive director of the 21st Century School Fund, explains why any infrastructure plan should include public schools. The 21st Century School Fund is a nonprofit organization that works to build the public will and capacity to modernize public school facilities to support high-quality education and community revitalization.
By Mary Filardo
A “Make America Great Again” infrastructure package needs to go beyond roads and bridges. It must include public schools.
Local communities and states in the United States are projected to spend about $1 trillion on public school buildings and grounds over the next 10 years — but still fall over $400 billion short on what they need to house students and staff in healthy, safe and educationally appropriate public school infrastructure. This funding gap degrades the education and health of children, depresses the vitality of communities, and overburdens our natural resources.
Deteriorated facilities conditions are disproportionately experienced by children in low-income and low-wealth rural and urban communities. Think freezing students in inner-city Baltimore and a rained-out classroom in rural Southwest Virginia. But while the extremes are in the poorest communities, the problems are not theirs alone. Aging schools live in aging suburbs, where most schools built in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s have never been fully modernized.
We need to end the battle of bricks and books — where impossible choices of whether to replace a roof or hire a teacher end up on the same table. Children and communities need both. The education budget is more than carrying its weight expanding early childhood education, meeting a wide range of special needs, raising teaching and learning standards, and keeping up with changes in science and technology. This same budget also helps support facilities for important out-of-school time and community-use activities.
We need to change the game. A federal infrastructure package needs to provide $10 billion a year over the next 10 years to states for their district public school facilities. This is less than 10 percent of the annual $140 billion a year they need for their buildings and grounds. But with this federal share, states can address gross facility disparities immediately and leverage new state and local capacity for modern public education infrastructure.
There is already excellent guidance for Congress on what federal policy on school infrastructure should be. Legislation in the House by Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.), H.R. 2475 (115), and in the Senate by Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), S. 1674 (115), has been introduced for school infrastructure. This policy has states and local districts keep control of the school facilities and invests $100 billion to modernize our public school facilities over 10 years — creating an estimated 1.8 million American jobs.
Locally and in the states, school construction funding is not a partisan issue. It shouldn’t be in Congress. Many of the most distressed communities are small rural and town school districts. There is just no way they can go it alone. They need state help, but the states need federal help to make sure ALL children have healthy, safe and educationally inspiring school buildings and grounds.
It’s the least we can do. It’s basic.
The [Re]Build America’s School Infrastructure Coalition (BASIC) includes nonpartisan organizations and individuals who support federal funding to help underserved public school districts modernize their facilities. We believe that ALL children should attend healthy, safe, and educationally appropriate school facilities. More at buildusschools.org.