Education Funding

K-12 Infrastructure Is Broken. Here’s Biden’s Newest Plan to Help Fix It

By Mark Lieberman — April 04, 2022 2 min read
Image of an excavator in front of a school building.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The Biden administration is offering new grant funding and other resources to help school districts plan sorely-needed investments in the nation’s dilapidated school buildings and buses—though the offerings fall well short of schools’ needs.

The announcement comes just one week after the administration’s latest federal budget proposal, which does not include a previously proposed investment of $100 billion in grants and bonds for K-12 school infrastructure. Congress last year considered a similar investment as part of a broader infrastructure spending package, but lawmakers eventually excised public schools from their priority list as well.

This week the federal government announced new funding that amounts to half of 1 percent of those proposals.

A Department of Energy grant program will funnel $500 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed by Congress last November for school districts to spend on priorities, including:

  • comprehensive energy efficiency audits and building retrofits,
  • HVAC and lighting upgrades,
  • clean energy installation, and
  • training for staff to maintain these improvements long-term.

Rural and high-poverty schools will get priority consideration from the agency.

America spends $110 billion a year on school infrastructure, but that hefty sum falls $85 billion short of the necessary benchmark to fully modernize school buildings nationwide, according to a 2021 report from a coalition of school infrastructure advocates.

Leaky roofs, moldy ceilings, flooded classrooms, suffocating heat, and overcrowded hallways are a fixture of the scenery for millions of America’s K-12 students, particularly in rural and low-income areas. Many school buildings that haven’t been renovated for decades can’t easily be upgraded because they weren’t built for modern equipment.

The federal government for nearly a century has supplied only a tiny fraction of those costs, leaving states and local governments to make up the rest.

Monday’s announcement of a “Biden-Harris Action Plan for Building Better School Infrastructure” also highlights new efforts by the administration to encourage investment in K-12 facilities. The White House will provide guidance to state and local governments that received funds from last year’s American Rescue Plan pandemic relief package on how to use those funds for infrastructure projects in concert with local school districts’ own federal relief aid.

The plan also includes documents that may be helpful for school districts, including:

  • a toolkit that lists all opportunities for federal funds to support school facilities projects,
  • a guide from the Environmental Protection Agency to improving air quality in school buildings,
  • a guide to using the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development grant program to assist with school bus electrification in rural areas,
  • a series of webinars detailing the value of electric school buses and the opportunities to purchase them, and
  • an invitation to join the Efficient and Healthy Schools Campaign, which is currently providing technical assistance for school modernization projects in at least 26 school districts, including the Charleston schools in South Carolina, the Columbia schools in Missouri, and the Newark schools in New Jersey.

Why is fixing America’s school buildings such a difficult task? Education Week last year compiled four big reasons.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
IT Infrastructure Webinar
A New Era In Connected Learning: Security, Accessibility and Affordability for a Future-Ready Classroom
Learn about Windows 11 SE and Surface Laptop SE. Enable students to unlock learning and develop new skills.
Content provided by Microsoft Surface
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum Making Technology Work Better in Schools
Join experts for a look at the steps schools are taking (or should take) to improve the use of technology in schools.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
The ABCs of ESSER: How to Make the Most of Relief Funds Before They Expire
Join a diverse group of K-12 experts to learn how to leverage federal funds before they expire and improve student learning environments.
Content provided by Johnson Controls

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Funding What America Spends on K-12: The Latest Federal Snapshot
About 93 percent of K-12 spending came from state and local sources in 2019-20—but more-recent year totals will reflect federal relief aid.
2 min read
Education Funding Opinion How You Can Avoid Missing Out on COVID Relief Money
We’re losing the race against the clock to spend ESSER funds, but there are solutions.
Erin Covington
3 min read
Illustration of cash dangling from line and hand trying to grasp it.
F. Sheehan for Education Week/Getty
Education Funding Less Funding, Less Representation: What a Historic Undercount of Latinos Means for Schools
Experts point to wide-ranging implications, including how much federal funding schools with large Latino populations will get.
3 min read
Classroom with Latino boy.
Prostock-Studio/Getty
Education Funding Biden Budget Seeks Big Funding Increases for High-Need Schools, Student Mental Health
The president's new budget proposal comes just weeks after he signed into law a spending plan that fell short of last year's ambitious plan.
5 min read
Photograph of a compass on top of money.
Nuthawut Somsuk/iStock/Getty