HSC Statement on What Works and What’s Needed in the American Jobs Plan
April 02, 2021
Photo: Allison Shelley for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action
The American Jobs Plan recognizes the role that schools can play in promoting health, equity and climate resilience, but more direct funding is needed to ensure historically neglected school districts can benefit.
Healthy Schools Campaign applauds the inclusion of school infrastructure investments in the American Jobs Plan that will significantly improve the health of children and communities.
However, the plan falls short when it comes to equitable school funding.
President Biden campaigned on a major investment in schools: $100 billion to modernize outdated and unsafe buildings — where mold, contaminated water, asbestos and faulty heating and cooling systems pose considerable health risks — and build energy-efficient, innovative school facilities and outdoor spaces.
Yet instead of allocating $100 billion in grants — as outlined in the Reopen and Rebuild America’s Schools Act — the American Jobs Plan allocates only $50 billion in direct grants, with another $50 billion set aside for interest subsidies on bonds that states or school districts issue to pay for school construction.
HSC urges the Biden administration to provide at least $100 billion in direct federal grants, making it possible for more students to learn in updated, healthy environments.
“School districts that lack community wealth historically have struggled to borrow money and pass bond measures. It is one of the most devastating examples of inequitable funding structures,” said Rochelle Davis, HSC President and CEO.
“President Biden repeatedly has underscored the importance of health, equity and climate resilience as the country builds back from decades of under-investment, particularly in low-income communities where structural inequalities and systemic racism have led to worsening health outcomes,” Davis added.
“We know the president does not want to leave any community behind. Yet the reduction in direct grants will make it more difficult for the most-neglected school districts to take advantage of the ‘once-in-a-generation investment in America.'”
Our country faces an annual shortfall of $46 billion in school funding. The average public school is nearly 50 years old, and many buildings are in desperate need of long-term repair.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office found that 54 percent of public school districts have two or more major building systems needing to be upgraded or replaced in many of their schools, including aging plumbing and HVAC systems. Even before COVID-19, more than 14 million school days were missed every year due to asthma, a condition exacerbated by poor indoor air quality.
The administration has identified other areas of investment related to public health that HSC fully supports, including eliminating lead pipes and service lines in homes and schools and upgrading America’s drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems.
In addition, the American Jobs Plan recognizes the role that schools can play in addressing health and climate change. HSC strongly endorses proposals to:
- Support schools in becoming environments of community resilience with green space, clean air, and safe places to gather, especially during emergencies. (We know firsthand the impact this can have: HSC’s Space to Grow initiative transforms Chicago schoolyards into outdoor learning spaces and community hubs that successfully mitigate stormwater runoff and reduce flooding.)
- Improve school kitchens, so they can be used to better prepare nutritious meals and go green by reducing or eliminating the use of paper plates and other disposable materials.
- Replace 50,000 diesel transit vehicles and electrify at least 20 percent of the yellow school bus fleet, which would reduce air pollution through a new Clean Buses for Kids Program at the Environmental Protection Agency, with support from the Department of Energy.
President Biden understands that schools are a vibrant part of communities and that public investment improves children’s outcomes. We look forward to working with the administration to strengthen and pass the American Jobs Plan for the benefit of generations to come.