August 17, 2023 / Mark Ames

New Bill Seeks to Improve the Learning and Working Conditions of Millions of School Students and Staff

Every student, teacher, and school employee deserves to learn and work in a safe and healthy environment. Yet many schools face significant health and safety challenges. A 2020 U.S. Government Accountability Office report (PDF) found that "41 percent of districts required HVAC systems upgrades or replacements in at least half of their schools" and that "20 to 35 percent of all school districts had serious deficiencies in at least half of their roofing, lighting or safety and security systems." Another report (PDF) found that, each year, schools collectively face an $85 billion gap between the money they have and what they need for maintenance, operation, and capital improvements. Because schools receive most of their funding from local property or sales tax revenue, school facility needs are often particularly acute in small, low-wealth school districts. A new bill in Congress seeks to help improve this situation.

Sponsored by leading members of Congress in the House and Senate, the Rebuild America's Schools Act of 2023 (H.R.5049/S.2608) would:

  • in consultation with NIOSH, CDC, EPA, and the U.S. Department of Energy, call on states to develop comprehensive state-wide public databases on the conditions of school buildings, including indoor environmental quality, whether previous inspections have revealed the presence of toxic substances, and improvements needed to support energy and water efficiency, resiliency, and climate mitigation
  • pave the way to investing $100 billion in grants and $30 billion in bond authority to high-poverty schools whose facilities pose health and safety risks to students and staff
  • create an information clearinghouse in the U.S. Department of Education to help schools become aware of federal programs and financing mechanisms that may be used to assist schools in initiating, developing, and financing energy efficiency, distributed generation, and energy retrofitting projects
  • create an Office of School Infrastructure and Sustainability to better coordinate and focus federal programs and activities to improve school facilities

"This bill would improve the indoor air quality, energy efficiency, and water safety of schools while reducing the presence of toxic substances, excessive noise, and other health, safety, and environmental hazards that could impact student learning," said AIHA CEO Larry Sloan in a recent press release announcing AIHA's support for the bill. "The bill would also collect key data on school infrastructure to help parents, policymakers, and other key stakeholders make informed decisions. AIHA encourages members of Congress to pass this critically needed bill immediately."

In late July, several members of Congress voiced their support for the legislation.

"Chronic neglect of America's public schools has forced students and teachers across the country to learn and work in outdated and hazardous school buildings," said Representative Robert C. "Bobby" Scott (VA-03), ranking member of the U.S. House Education and the Workforce Committee. "Moreover, dilapidated and poorly ventilated school facilities pose significant health threats that make it harder for teachers to teach and students to learn. The Rebuild America's Schools Act invests $130 billion in our nation's physical and digital infrastructure, improves students' academic recovery efforts, and creates more than 2 million jobs over the next five years. It is far past time to improve public education infrastructure."

"Every student deserves a safe and healthy learning environment to pursue their full potential," said Representative Donald Norcross (NJ-01). "Our children are our country's greatest asset, and we must invest in rebuilding, repairing, and sustaining our schools."

"Improving school infrastructure is critical to the health, safety, and well-being of America's students and our communities," said Senator Jack Reed (RI). "The Rebuild America's Schools Act would provide dedicated, long-term investments in improving America's schools and ensuring every student can learn in a safe, healthy, modern classroom."

In addition to AIHA, the Rebuild America's Schools Act is supported by more than twenty organizations, including the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME); the American Federation of Teachers (AFT); the American Institute of Architects (AIA); the American School Superintendents Association (AASA); the [Re]Build America's School Infrastructure Coalition (BASIC); the National Education Association (NEA); SafeTraces; and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

AIHA encourages its members to support the Rebuild America's Schools Act and will be promoting it during our Virtual Congressional Advocacy Week (September 25–29, 2023). Sign up to participate and request AIHA staff help setting up online meetings with your members of Congress through the AIHA website.

Mark Ames

Mark Ames is AIHA’s director of Government Relations.


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