President Donald Trump unveiled his $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan Monday. And, probably unsurprisingly, there are no explicit resources for refurbishing, renovating, or constructing schools.
Instead, the package asks for $200 billion in federal funds to help spur state, local, and private investment in fixing up and building highways, roads, and bridges. Other parts of the proposal are aimed at environmental cleanup and revamping airports.
There are a few pieces of the proposal that could leave room for school construction funding, depending on how the administration decides to implement them. For instance, the proposal also asks for $50 billion in dedicated funding for rural areas, some of which governors could use as they see fit. That could potentially pave the way for states to spend on improving broadband access, which may benefit schools, depending on what states decide to do, advocates say.
There’s also a $100 billion fund that is supposed to go to certain federal agencies, including the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Transportation. However, other agencies are allowed to petition for a portion of those funds. That leaves open the possibility that the Education Department could, in theory, ask for money for school construction, advocates say.
But overall, advocates are disappointed with the lack of focus on school construction.
“They didn’t make it easy for schools to get to the table,” said Mary Filardo, the executive director of the 21st Century School Fund, an advocacy organization for school facilities, and a member of the organizing committee for the Rebuild America’s Schools Infrastructure Coalition. “It’s disappointing but not surprising. Schools haven’t made it to the big boy table for a long time.”
And she said, the amount of overall funding is small, meaning that states and localities are going to be more likely to focus on other projects.
Others see the lack of money for schools as a sign of where education ranks on the administration’s priority list.
“The fact that [the plan] doesn’t include a cent for public schools speaks volumes about this administration’s lack of commitment to public education,” Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation for Teachers said in a statement.
The White House, though, has stressed that any infrastructure package would need to garner bipartisan support. And Democrats—and at least one moderate Republican—have signaled that school construction funding is a priority. Democrats wanted to direct some $100 billion to school construction in their own infrastructure plan, unveiled last spring. And more recently, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., along with 23 other senators—all Democrats—urged Trump to consider partnering with states to modernize and repair schools.
That doesn’t mean education isn’t mentioned at all in the plan.
The White House says it wants to provide Pell Grants to students pursing “high-quality or short-term programs” that provide students with a certification or credential in an “in-demand” field. Traditionally, Pell Grants help low-income students cover the cost of higher education.
And the administration wants to allow students to use Federal Work Study funds to expand workforce learning opportunities, including apprenticeships. The White House also says it wants to revamp the $1.1 billion Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education program, the largest federal program for high schools. The proposal doesn’t specifically mention which fields the grants would focus on. A bipartisan bill to overhaul CTE has already passed the House, and is awaiting action in the Senate.
“We believe that as the infrastructure [package] and the things that are associated with it are implemented, there will be increased demand for and need for CTE careers to actually help accelerate things that are happening on the state and local level,” Ebony Lee, the deputy chief of staff for policy at the department told education advocates Monday.
Meanwhile, it’s unclear if the proposal has legs in Congress. The Trump administration isn’t specific about where most of the money to pay for it would come from. And it’s unclear that states and localities will want to increase their own taxes or shift spending in order to qualify for a relatively small federal match. The $200 billion federal ask is just a small portion of the $1.5 trillion total. (More on that from the Washington Post.)
Photo: President Trump gives his first State of the Union address to Congress in January 2018. —Win McNamee/AFP/Getty Images