DALLAS – Legislation introduced in the Senate last week just before lawmakers left for a month-long recess would authorize $30 billion of qualified school infrastructure bonds and expand the use of tax-credit Qualified Zone Academy Bonds to school construction.
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said the School Building Improvement Act of 2017, S.1674,, which he introduced on Aug. 4, would provide $100 billion of federal grants and school construction bonds over the next 10 years to help build and renovate schools.
The measure would help close the gap between the nation’s education needs and the state and local funding that is available for school projects, Reed said.
Reed said the bill would help states upgrade education infrastructure and meet their most pressing school building construction needs while creating an estimated 1.9 million jobs nationally. It would require the use of American-made iron, steel, and manufactured products in the schools.
Federal funding currently accounts for just 0.2% of the total capital investment in schools in the U.S., he said.
“Public schools are crucial to the future success of our nation, and must be included in our national infrastructure strategy,” said Reed, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s panel on transportation. “This bill will provide local communities with the resources they need to invest in high-quality schools.”
Public charter schools would have equitable access to the funding that would be provided by the measure, Reed said.
Under the bill, $7 billion per year for 10 years would be provided in formula funds to states that establish local competitive grant programs for school repair, renovation, and construction.
Reed’s measure would authorize $10 billion of Qualified School Infrastructure Bonds per year in fiscal 2018, 2019, and 2020.
It would also expand the bond authority of and eligible purposes for Qualified Zone Academy Bonds to allow local education agencies to use them to construct, rehabilitate, retrofit, or repair school facilities. Proceeds from the tax-credit bonds currently cannot be used for new construction.
The School Building Improvement Act is cosponsored by Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Benjamin Cardin of Maryland, and Dick Durbin of Illinois.
Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., and six Democratic co-sponsors introduced a similar measure, The Rebuild America’s School Act (HR 2475), in May.
“I call on Congress to invest in public schools and the communities they serve as a first step in demonstrating its commitment to rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure,” said Scott, the ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee.
Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., said Tuesday that he would introduce a bill when Congress returns in September that would levy a tax on the carbon-content of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas. Revenue from the tax would be placed in a trust fund dedicated to infrastructure projects.
“I am introducing the America Wins Act in order to repair our crumbling roads and bridges and to jump start transformative projects that can solve our infrastructure challenges,” he said. “This is a jobs program for the middle class and it is fully paid for without adding to the national debt.”
Larson said the $49 per ton tax on carbon in his measure would generate $1.8 trillion over the next 10 years to provide $1 trillion for infrastructure. Consumers would be in line for $800 billion of rebates, he said, with another $50 billion set aside to fund coal miner pensions and help coal miners transition out of the industry.
“I’m convinced an infrastructure bill is going to go forward,” Larson said at a news conference in Hartford. “How it will be funded is what the debate will be.”