The last few months have brought a keen focus on the new U.S. administration's policy priorities. USGBC was pleased that the Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Schools announcement went forward as planned last month, and there have been a number of additional green schools policy developments at the federal level.
Green schools are bipartisan
The Congressional Green Schools Caucus is nearing its 10th anniversary of serving as an education platform for members of Congress, showing representatives how they can affect our nation’s approach to new and existing school buildings. Rep. Ryan Costello (R-Pa.) joined this year as a co-chair of the caucus, along with Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), for this session. Continuing bipartisan collaboration on educating members of the benefits of green schools supports similar bipartisan progress at the local level.
School buildings are part of the infrastructure discussion
Although the administration has yet to release its infrastructure plan, Congress has been active in advancing school facility construction and modernization as means of promoting job creation and efficiency. The Public Buildings Renewal Act would create $5 billion in private activity bonds for building or modernizing public structures such as public schools, state colleges, libraries, post offices and judicial facilities.
While not a panacea for school facility needs in the United States, the bill provides another funding vehicle to assist states and localities in updating public schools and other government facilities. The legislation has bipartisan support in both the House and Senate and could be an attractive solution as Congress considers changes to the tax code or an infrastructure proposal this session.
The House Education and Workforce Ranking Member Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) has introduced a far more ambitious plan to modernize school facilities. The Rebuild America’s Schools Act of 2017 would create a $70 billion grant program and $30 billion tax credit bond program targeted at high-poverty schools with facilities that pose health and safety risks to students and staff. The new construction and major renovations would be have to be consistent with green building standards, including LEED certification. The bill has significant support from House Democrats and will likely be on the shortlist of priorities for the House minority if Congress considers an infrastructure bill.