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Many Schools Are in Disrepair. Will They Get Any of Trump's Infrastructure Money?

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As the nation prepares for President Trump's first State of the Union address, a new group is calling for the president to commit to spending $100 billion over the next decade on K-12  public school buildings.

Counting on the president to highlight plans for investing in the nation's infrastructure program, the group of advocates for school facilities says spending about $10 billion a year on K-12 facilities will generate 1.8 million jobs in rural, urban, and suburban communities.

Calling itself the [Re] Build America's School Infrastructure Coalition, or BASIC, the group says that massive spending is necessary to get school buildings up to code, repair crumbling facilities, and build new facilities. Mary Filardo, the executive director of the Washington-based 21st Century School Fund, said that the $100 billion will account for only a small portion of a potential $1-trillion-dollar infrastructure program.

The group is tying an increase in spending on public school buildings to better academic achievement, healthier children, and job creation. It will also be an economic boost for struggling communities, the group argues.

"An investment in school facilities, on the capital side, will result in substantial construction jobs," said Alex Donahue, a spokesman for the 21 Century School Fund. "We know that an investment in school facility construction will not only address these urgently increasing needs around the country, but it will reach into many neighborhoods—rural, urban, suburban—everywhere where there are schools. And [it] will result in very high-paying jobs, relatively speaking."

The group wrote a letter, dated Jan. 27., to President Trump with its request. As of Monday afternoon, the group had not received a response from the White House, Filardo said. And there've been no signals from the White House that schools would be a central part of the president's infrastructure proposal. (See Alyson Klein's full preview of how education may factor into tonight's speech.)

Where Does Funding for School Construction Come From?

The vast majority of money—about 80 percent—spent on school construction comes from local sources. It's harder for poorer communities to find the money to build new facilities and renovate old ones, and many put off maintenance, which adds up to significant costs down the line, Filardo said.

(See Education Week's recent special report "The New SchoolHouse: Planning, Funding, and Building Facilities That Work") on the state of school facilities and the challenges communities face in finding money to upgrade learning environments.)

A 2017 report by the American Society of Civil Engineers gave U.S. public school infrastructure a D-plus.  And while districts across the country spend about $49 billion annually to modernize schools, they need to spend an additional $38 billion more to get schools up to code and ensure they are physically and environmentally suitable for learning, according to the  21st Century School Fund, the research arm of the National Council on School Facilities. 

The new BASIC coalition includes the National Council on School Facilities, the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers (BAC), The Center for Green Schools, The Center for Cities + Schools, and Johnson Controls.

With tax reform under his belt, immigration and infrastructure are expected to the next big-ticket items on President Trump's agenda.

Filardo said she is optimistic that K-12 schools will be included.

"If there is a real legislative process around infrastructure, schools will definitely get to the big boy's table, finally," she said.  

Related stories:

Photo: Basketball courts show their age at a school in 2015 in Fayette County, W. Va., where K-12 facilities have been a major issue. --Doyle Maurer/Education Week

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