The U.S. House of Representatives passed the 21st Century Green, High-Performing Public Schools Facilities Act on May 14 by a largely partisan vote of 275 to 155. H.R. 2187 would invest billions of dollars in school repair and renovation projects to create safer, healthier, and more energy-efficient learning environments for students.
The legislation makes schools part of the effort to revive the U.S. economy and fight global warming by creating clean energy jobs that will help put workers in hard-hit industries back to work. The bill also makes investments to rebuild schools in areas recovering from natural disasters, including Gulf Coast area schools affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
"All students and teachers deserve safe and healthy learning environments, but too often, their schools are literally falling apart," said U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee and one of the bill's sponsors. "This legislation is a victory for students, workers and our planet. It will help improve educational opportunities and boost student achievement, it will help transition us toward a green economy by making our classrooms more environmentally-friendly, and it will get Americans back to work by creating good-paying, clean energy jobs."
According to recent estimates, the nation's schools are billions of dollars short of what it would take to bring them into good condition. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave U.S. schools a "D" on its national infrastructure report card for this year. A recent report by the American Federation of Teachers estimates it would cost almost $255 billion to fully renovate and repair all the schools in the country.
The 21st Century Green, High-Performing Public Schools Facilities Act would authorize $6.4 billion for school renovation and modernization projects for fiscal year 2010, and would ensure that school districts quickly receive funds for projects that improve schools' teaching and learning climates, health and safety, and energy efficiency.
To further encourage energy efficiency and the use of renewable resources in schools, the legislation would require a percentage of funds be used for school improvement projects that meet widely recognized green building standards. It would require that 100 percent of the funds go toward green projects by 2015 -- the final year of funding under the bill.
"The 21st Century Green, High-Performing Public Schools Facilities Act will ... improve student achievement and boost teacher retention by providing America's children and teachers with a healthier and safer learning environment, save taxpayers' money on energy, and help reduce emissions that contribute to global warming," said Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
"By improving energy efficiency in our schools and public buildings, and by encouraging Americans to make their own homes and businesses more energy efficient, we can create good-paying jobs now, reduce our nation's dependence on foreign oil, and combat climate change. The 21st Century Green, High-Performing Public Schools Facilities Act is another significant step toward building a new, clean energy economy for America," Pelosi said.
House Republican Education and Labor Committee members opposed H.R. 2187, arguing that it "creates a massive and unproven $40 billion federal school construction program that would nationalize and regulate school construction projects; threaten state, local, and private support for educational infrastructure; jeopardize Congress' ability to reduce federal spending, pushing the country further into debt; dramatically increase the cost of building schools; and siphon resources from longstanding education priorities without improving academic achievement."
In addition, opponents say that it introduces greater federal control over schools, which typically falls under the jurisdiction of state and local agencies. And, it creates an overlap of funds already apportioned in the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Further, they present the argument that the bill's Davis-Bacon Act clause, which governs fair worker wages, will drive up project costs.