U.S. Senator Chris Coons has introduced legislation which would earmark $130 billion to invest in America's public school infrastructure in light of the insufficiencies exposed by the pandemic.
"The Reopen and Rebuild America's Schools Act...would invest money in upgrading and updating America's public schools," he told WDEL Monday. "As we've learned through this pandemic, they're behind in two key areas: One is in HVAC, or air handling equipment, and the other is in digital equipment, in high-speed broadband."
Coons, who introduced the legislation with 25 other senators, says outdated school buildings in poor condition are barriers to a good education. Air flow in classrooms looking to get students back behind their desks is paramount for maintaining a safe environment, and for students still learning from home, digital access is a priority to keep them successful.
"We've got schools all over our country either shut down, with teachers trying to teach digitally or remotely, or a mix of students back in school and learning remotely," Coons said. "It's clearer than ever that public schools have to have reliable high-speed internet access in order to facilitate digital learning. More urgently, given this pandemic, we also have way too many schools that need updated HVAC systems for air handling to meet CDC guidelines, so that students can learn safely in school. That's true for pandemic but, frankly, it's also true for cold and flu season year-in and year-out."
Coons said traveling around and witnessing the conditions of schools in the First State showed him the need for these investments. The legislation looks to send $100 billion to states who could then provide local competitive grants via formula funds for repair, renovation, and construction. He said states should focus on communities with the greatest financial need, encourage green construction, and expanding internet access.
"I've visited schools in Delaware, from Seaford to Wilmington, from Hockessin to Dover, and seeing the ways in which they've tried--they've tried valiantly, they've tried mostly successfully--to adapt the learning environment to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic," Coons said. "Particularly in winter months, and particularly as new and more transmissive variants of this virus emerge in the United States, I think we owe it to our students and faculty and staff at our schools to invest in upgrading air handling and school safety."
More than half of all school districts were shown to need major system replacements in a Government Accountability Office report from last year, Coons said, and the size and scope of the bill was dictated by those findings. A benefit of the legislation would also be the number of people it puts to work.
"This bill is also estimated to create over two million jobs by the Economic Policy Institute," Coons said. "Investing this kind of money and upgrading and improving our schools, also creates good jobs for local construction companies and makes it safer and easier for kids to learn, and learn in a healthy environment."