WILMINGTON, Del.  U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) joined Senator Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and 24 of their colleagues in introducing the Reopen and Rebuild America’s Schools Act last week. Outdated school buildings in poor condition are barriers to a good education. With school districts facing increased costs, aging school infrastructure, and an urgent need to alleviate crowded classrooms and ensure adequate fresh air ventilation to help reduce COVID-19 transmission, the bill would invest $130 billion in modernizing classrooms across the country and would help schools upgrade their physical and digital infrastructure. 

“As we continue to grapple with the COVID-19 crisis, it is critical that we invest in the safe and sustainable reopening of our schools,” said Senator Coons. “This bill prioritizes the needs of our students and educators, the safety of our school buildings, and jobs in communities throughout Delaware and the country – creating opportunity while helping our schools overcome the challenges of the pandemic.”

Crumbling, outdated school infrastructure makes it tougher for students, teachers, and staff to safely return to school for in-person instruction. Comprehensive school modernization planning is a critical component of helping post-pandemic K-12 schools become stronger and more sustainable than before the COVID-19 crisis.

The Reopen and Rebuild America’s Schools Act will provide $100 billion in formula funds to states for local competitive grants for school repair, renovation, and construction. States will focus assistance on communities with the greatest financial need, encourage green construction practices, and expand access to high-speed broadband to ensure that all students have access to digital learning. 

The bill would also provide $30 billion for qualified school infrastructure bonds (QSIBs), $10 billion each year from fiscal years 2022 through 2024, and restore the Qualified Zone Academy Bonds (QZABS) that were eliminated in the Republican Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The legislation eases the matching requirements and expands the authority and eligible purposes of QZABS to allow local education agencies to construct, rehabilitate, retrofit, or repair school facilities. 

The Reopen and Rebuild America’s Schools Act also supports American workers by ensuring that projects use American-made iron, steel, and manufactured products and meet labor standards. 

In the Senate, the bill is also cosponsored by U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).

A summary of the Reopen and Rebuild America’s Schools Act is provided below.

•           Investment of $100 billion in grants and $30 billion in bond authority targeted at public schools with high need and facilities that pose health and safety risks to students and staff;

•           Creation of over 2 million jobs based on an Economic Policy Institute analysis that each $1 billion spent on construction creates 17,785 jobs;

•           Allocation of 2022 program dollars on an emergency basis to aid in safely reopening public schools in line with Centers for Disease Control (CDC) public health guidelines—such as for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems;

•           Requiring states to develop comprehensive state-wide public databases on the condition of public-school facilities; most states do not track school facility conditions and would provide much-needed insight into the condition of our public schools; and

•           Expanding access to high-speed broadband to ensure that public schools have the reliable and high-speed Internet access they need for digital learning.