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Letter to the Senate on school modernization

July 14, 2015

Dear Senator:

On behalf of the three million members of the National Education Association and the students they serve, we urge you to support and co-sponsor the Rebuilding America’s Schools Act (S.1753) by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH). Research shows that peeling paint, crumbling plaster, nonfunctioning toilets, poor lighting, inadequate ventilation, and inoperative heating and cooling systems can adversely affect students’ learning as well as their health (Source: U.S. Department of Education). To help ensure that our nation’s public schools are in good repair and equipped with modern technology, the Rebuilding America’s Schools Act would make permanent and provide additional federal resources for the Qualified Zone Academy Bond (QZAB) program.

The QZAB program has proven to be an efficient and cost-effective way to help disadvantaged communities address pressing renovation and repair needs. Since 1998, QZABs have helped renovate and repair schools in every state. QZABs assist school districts in rural and urban communities by providing a financing mechanism to renovate buildings and invest in equipment and technology. Investors receive a federal tax credit equal to the amount of interest payable on the bonds, thereby relieving local taxpayers and municipalities of the interest burden. A school that is awarded a QZAB may use the funds to renovate and repair buildings, invest in equipment, and update technology.

Specifically, the Rebuilding America’s Schools Act would:

  • Make the QZAB program permanent with an annual allocation of $1.4 billion
  • Restore the direct payment option for QZABs
  • Make it easier to secure the required percentage of matching contributions from local communities
  • Make construction with renovation and repair a QZAB purpose

In its 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, the American Society of Civil Engineers gives the condition of our schools a “D” rating, calculates that schools are facing $271 billion in deferred maintenance costs, and estimates that bringing them into good repair and addressing modernization needs will cost $542 billion over the next ten years—far beyond the means of states and local communities. Nationwide, America invested just $10 billion in school construction in 2012, half the amount spent annually prior to the Great Recession (Source: 2013 State of Our Schools Report, Center for Green Schools).

Too many of today’s students attend school in yesterday’s buildings with out-of-date technology and often unsafe, crumbling infrastructures that are more 40 years old on average. For their sake, we urge you to support and co-sponsor the Rebuilding America’s Schools Act.

Sincerely,

Mary Kusler
Director of Government Relations