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Letter to Senators Warner and Webb on supporting the Rehabilitation of Historic Schools Act

January 20, 2012

Dear Senators Warner and Webb:

On behalf of the 3.2 million members of the National Education Association (NEA), we would like to express our support for the Rehabilitation of Historic Schools Act (S.1685).  We applaud your leadership in crafting and securing bipartisan support for this school modernization proposal.

Far too many students are learning in schools with leaky roofs and peeling paint in overcrowded classrooms with out-of-date or no technology.  In fact, the American Society of Civil Engineers gives the condition of our nation’s schools a grade of “D.”  (Source: Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, 2009).  On average, the buildings that house our public schools are more than 40 years old.  (Source: National Center for Education Statistics).  According to Fix America’s Schools Today (FAST!), a project of the Economic Policy Institute and the 21st Century School Fund, schools need an estimated $500 billion in repairs and upgrades.

S. 1685 offers a common-sense approach to addressing some of our school modernization needs.  It is based on a 100 percent private capital investment model enacted in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan and a Democratic Congress but blocked by a little known IRS "prior use" rule.  This rule has forced localities in many states to pay tens of billions in unnecessary construction costs over these 25 years, driving up local property taxes and costing America millions of jobs.

S. 1685 is aimed at creating a level playing field for public school projects.  It requires no appropriation of funds, and offers a way to reduce outstanding federally subsidized government debt.  The bill smartly uses a federal incentive to make modernization investments attractive to Main Street.  A school modernized by the federal rehabilitation tax credit will not require a federal subsidy to Wall Street for what could be the 30 year life of the bond.

We know from our affiliate, the Virginia Education Association, that S. 1635 is based on a proven success.  We look forward to meeting with your offices to discuss the addition of a catch-up provision to address what is essentially a penalty for localities created by the prior use rule.  We would also like to discuss the addition of a sunset clause intended to encourage localities to take fast action in this area.   

Again, we thank you for your leadership on this important issue and your efforts to ensure bipartisan support.  We look forward to working with you in the near future. 

Sincerely,

Kim Anderson
Director, Center for Advocacy

Mary Kusler
Director of Government Relations