Democrats are once again pitching a big plan to fix up America’s schools. But it follows several false starts in the last few years to address this issue inside the Beltway from both parties.
Under the Rebuild America’s Schools Act, unveiled by House and Senate Democrats on Wednesday in Washington, the federal government would provide $70 billion in direct funding for school repairs and rebuilding, along with $30 billion in tax-credit bonds. The bill would also create “a comprehensive national database on the condition of public school facilities,” according to a fact sheet put out by the Democrats.
The proposal, which was released by Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., Rep. Donald Norcross, D-N.J., and Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., would also generate 1.9 million jobs, according to the Democrats, who cite an estimate from the left-leaning and labor-friendly Economic Policy Institute.
In a press conference, standing behind a podium that bore the slogan “Build Schools Not Walls” (a reference to President Donald Trump’s push to build a barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border), Scott stressed that the bill would target money toward schools serving large shares of students in poverty. He said that every day, students and teachers go to school that are “either unsafe, or lack basic resources, or both.”
“This is simply unacceptable,” Scott said.
Asked what kind of response the proposal had received from the Trump administration and others, Reed said the bill’s supporters were still gathering co-sponsors, and said, “There is a common recognition of this problem.”
News about schools and infrastructure tends to overlap during crises, such as when when thousands of children were exposed to lead in drinking water in Flint, Mich. But experts have been sounding the alarm about schools’ overall state of repair for years. In 2017, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave public schools’ infrastructure a D-minus grade. That was lower than the D-plus the group gave to the nation’s overall infrastructure.
Infrastructure projects started out as a potential area of compromise and bipartisan success between President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders when the new administration began in 2017—before taking office, Trump complained about the U.S. building schools in Iraq but not New York City. But that promise has faded over the past two years.
Trump released the general outlines of an infrastructure spending proposal close to a year ago, but it did not contain any targeted money for schools. The $1.5 billion pitch did contain some funding that could in theory go to schools.
And right after Trump took over in 2017, Senate Democrats released a bill to provide $75 billion to help schools repair and rebuild. That was part of a larger $1 trillion blueprint to fix up crumbling infrastructure.
So even though the promise of “Infrastructure Week” has pretty much dissolved, Democrats are actually upping their funding request in their latest proposal.