Yesterday, Rep. Bobby Scott (Virginia's Third District), Chair of the U.S. House of Representatives Education and Labor Committee, and Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island reintroduced the Reopen and Rebuild America's Schools Act (RRASA), signaling a continuing and growing recognition for the need for investment in the nation’s K–12 school infrastructure.
In July 2020, RRASA passed the House as part of the INVEST in America Act (H.R. 2), positioning it well for consideration in the current session. This legislation would provide $100 billion over five years to help modernize our nation's schools in low-income and high-need communities, which do not have the resources locally to keep school buildings in good repair or to meet modern educational standards.
The poor conditions of public school buildings and grounds are barriers to meeting the public health guidelines that will enable the poorest districts to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus and reopen schools. However, these conditions were evident and problematic even before the pandemic. An estimated 41% of school districts need to update or replace HVAC systems in at least half of their schools, representing about 36,000 schools nationwide that need HVAC updates, according to a June 2020 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). Most schools will need help—both technical and financial—to maintain and modify their systems to meet current health recommendations and to monitor conditions once students and teachers return.
The pandemic has also highlighted what the Center for Green Schools and other school advocates have known for many years: Many of America’s schools are deteriorated, unsafe or outdated, and therefore unable to support quality education in safe and healthy spaces. The 2016 State of Our Schools report, published by the Center and its partners, illustrated that schools are getting only about two-thirds of the annual investment they need to stay in good repair and meet modern educational needs.
Lower-quality school facilities, often serving low-income children, are found in low-wealth school districts because of the dominant role of local property tax in funding school facilities. To provide safe, healthy, quality school facilities to all children and make a step toward equity in our education system, federal funding is needed for school facilities construction and modernization.
RRASA ensures that new and extensively rehabilitated schools are green schools with third party verification. The three overarching goals of a green school—sustainability, health and sustainability literacy—work together to make green school buildings better for students, teachers, taxpayers and the overall community. Third party verification such as LEED certification confirms that the building is designed, built and operated to meet increasingly important environmental, energy efficiency and health goals.
Call for action
The Center for Green Schools and USGBC’s Advocacy team have worked toward this legislation for many years. We encourage you to voice your support for school infrastructure investment to your members of Congress, join USGBC’s Advocacy Working Group, and consider joining the wider BASIC Coalition, a group of education, environmental and community organizations pushing for this federal investment.