Gillibrand bill is aimed at clean air, faster broadband in schools

Legislative Gazette file photo

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand announced legislation that looks to invest funds in public schools across the country as well as help cash-strapped school districts reopen safely under Centers for Disease Control guidelines.

The Reopen and Rebuild America’s Schools Act of 2021 would provide more than $100 billion in grant funding to schools that could pose health and safety risks to students and staff. The bill would allocate an additional $30 billion in bonds targeted at high poverty schools that pose the same risks. The school infrastructure projects could also create two million jobs across the country.

The legislation would also provide funding for updates to combat the spread of COVID-19 and expand access to high-speed broadband internet for digital learning. Gillibrand is looking to include the bill in President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill.

Legislative Gazette file photo
U.S. Sen Kirsten Gillibrand

The funding can be used for any infrastructure repairs that are needed, but Gillibrand noted the need for schools all over the country to repair and replace their HVAC and ventilation systems in light of the ongoing pandemic. She noted the 2016 State Of Our Schools report which found that state and local governments spend $46 billion less than what is required to update and maintain school facilities, causing asbestos, mold and water contamination.

“Repairing these facilities and HVAC, and getting schools COVID safe, will cost money that schools do not have,” said Gillibrand at a press conference on Tuesday. “The pandemic has brought these needs to the forefront at a time when states are facing unprecedented budget shortfalls.”

Gillibrand noted that the current state budget shortfalls will disproportionately harm communities of color because they are more likely to rely on state funding for school building repairs.

“A child’s ability to attend public school without risking their health should not depend on where they live or how much money their local government has,” said Gillibrand. “We must do more to make sure every community has the resources it needs to make schools safe.”

On the topic of the larger COVID relief package, Gillibrand said that things like $1,400 direct stimulus payments, unemployment insurance, rent relief and rental protection are just some of the non-negotiable aspects that she says is needed for her to support President Biden’s $1.9 trillion plan. 

“Everything that I care about is the sooner the better to get resources into the community so people can stop suffering.”