The Advocate: April 2021

(THE ADVOCATE) Permanent link

The Advocate: April 2021

Each month, the AASA policy and advocacy team writes an article that is shared with our state association executive directors, which they can run in their state newsletters as a way to build a direct link between AASA and our affiliates as well as AASA advocacy and our superintendents. The article is called The Advocate, and here is the April 2021 edition.

As AASA has highlighted in newsletters and blog posts, one of President Biden’s policy priorities this year is to move legislation that would drastically rebuild the nation’s infrastructure after decades of disinvestment in school facilities, broadband, water systems, bridges and roads. Acting in good faith on this campaign promise, yesterday, March 31, 2021, the Biden administration released the American Jobs Plan. If passed, this sweeping proposal would invest a total of $2 trillion in funding over 10-years in infrastructure improvements that would include more than $200 billion in direct grants and bonds for education and childcare infrastructure and workforce training programs. The last time public school facilities received a federal investment of this scale was following the Great Depression after FDR appropriated $1 billion to improve school buildings and make repairs; thus, making public schools one of the oldest forms of American infrastructure in addition to the second largest portion of the infrastructure sector. If history repeats itself, the American Jobs Plan will be welcomed news to superintendents, as it would provide additional federal investments that would benefit schools and families by modernizing school facilities, improving environmental factors and closing the digital divide. To keep our members abreast of what this plan could potentially mean for their communities, AASA has listed the major education-related highlights of the proposal below:

School Construction and Modernization: 

In total, the President’s plan calls on Congress to allocate $100 billion for school construction and modernization. This would be broken down into $50 billion in direct grants and an additional $50 billion leveraged through bonds. Moreover, this funding would likely be appropriated on an as-needed basis to procure equipment and make repairs that enable schools to improve indoor air quality and safely reopen with in-person learning (i.e., HVAC repairs). This funding may also be used for school district efforts around: (1) creating energy-efficient and innovative school buildings with cutting-edge technology and labs, (2) improving school kitchens, or (3) reducing or eliminating the use of paper plates and other disposable materials. 

While AASA is appreciative of any federal investment for public school facilities, it is important to note that the President’s proposed investment around school construction and modernization efforts represents a significant dip in funding from other proposals that have moved forth on Capitol Hill. For comparison, the Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, Bobby Scott, has championed the Reopen and Rebuild America’s Schools Act (RRASA). This proposal would allocate $100 billion in grants and 30 billion in capital outlay bonds. Therefore, this portion of the American Jobs Plan represents a $50B reduction in total grant funding compared to other House Democrat proposals on school infrastructure.

Digital Infrastructure:

If passed, the proposal would appropriate $100 billion to build high-speed broadband infrastructure. President Biden's priority on digital infrastructure is to build a system that is "future proof," meaning that it can withstand the impact of future crises. Specifically, this funding would be used to help America reach the 100 percent high-speed broadband coverage threshold. While the details of how this money would be allocated have not yet been released, it is certain that this investment would help close the digital divide particularly in the nation’s most rural communities.

Community Colleges and Childcare Infrastructure: 

The proposal calls on Congress to invest $12 billion in community colleges to improve facilities and technology, address higher education deserts (particularly for rural communities), grow local economies, improve energy efficiency and resilience, and narrow funding inequities in higher education. The proposal also urges Congress to appropriate $25 billion for states to upgrade and increase the supply of childcare facilities. Specifically, this funding would flow through a Child Care Growth and Innovation Fund directed at building states' supply of infant and toddler care in high-need areas. Finally, the President is calling for an expanded tax credit to encourage businesses to build childcare facilities at places of work. Employers will receive 50 percent of the first $1 million of construction costs per facility so that employees can enjoy the peace of mind and convenience that comes with on-site childcare.

School Lead Pipes and Service Lines:

Also, of important note to AASA members, the proposal calls on Congress to provide $45 billion in federal investments to eliminate all lead. The benefit of this investment to AASA members is that it would significantly solve the schools’ burden of complying with Environmental Protection Agency requirements around the prevalence of lead in schools’ drinking water. For more background around this topic, please click here.

Workforce Training and Apprenticeships:

The proposal also calls on Congress to allocate $48 billion in federal investments to improve the capacity of existing workforce development and worker protection systems. Ultimately, the goal of this investment would be to support registered apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeships, create one to two million new registered apprenticeship-slots, and strengthen the pipeline for more women and people of color to access these types of workforce training programs.

Future Outlook of Passage:

Senate Democrats are exploring whether they could have an additional opportunity to use budget reconciliation to pass these two bills. Congress could revise the Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 budget resolution that included the reconciliation instructions, which were used to create and pass the American Rescue Plan, and then use the new reconciliation instructions to pass this latest infrastructure proposal. This would benefit Democrats by leaving the FY 2022 budget resolution available for a third reconciliation bill, which only requires a simple majority vote in the Senate for passage. 

Speaker Pelosi has announced her intention to pass this bill before the July 4th recess, but many are skeptical given the lack of detail in this proposal how realistic that timeline actually is. AASA will certainly make a hard push to ensure school infrastructure is included in any Congressional package and funded in an appropriate, equity-centered way. Please stay tuned to see how you can advocate and for the maximum funding needed to address the longstanding crumbling and decrepit condition of some of our nation’s school buildings and grounds.

**Please note that the version of the Advocate posted here is an extended version, and is beyond what appears in our state newsletters.