Build Back Better bill clears house committee with $82B for school construction

Spending package includes $450 billion for early childhood care and universal pre-K
By: | September 13, 2021

The House Education and Labor Committee marked up a draft of its portion of the Build Back Better Act that includes billions of dollars in funds for education, including investments in early childhood care and universal pre-K, school construction, teacher and school leader professional development, and school meal programs on Sept. 10.

The action advances the portion of the bill to be included in the Build Back Better package to be considered by the House in coming weeks, a $3.5 trillion infrastructure package that the Biden administration and congressional Democrats are working to pass through the budget reconciliation process. It includes $450 billion in funding for early childhood care and universal pre-K programs for 3- and 4-year-old children.

“As our K-12 schools reopen this year, many students and educators are returning to crumbling and unsafe buildings that have asbestos, leaking roofs, lead pipes, and other safety hazards. The bill invests $82 billion in repairing, modernizing, and rebuilding our nation’s outdated school facilities and dedicates urgently needed resources to update public school infrastructure,” said House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, D-Va. “In addition, this funding will ensure that we rebuild energy-efficient and environmentally resilient public school facilities and ensure they are built to withstand extreme weather events. By upgrading our school facilities, students will learn, and teachers will teach in safer environments, while also helping to create more than a million good-paying jobs in communities across the country.”

Republican members of the committee criticized the proposal for increasing spending and imposing new requirements on employers. “This monstrous spending package recklessly increases what was already the highest sustained spending spree in American history,” said House Education and Labor Committee Ranking Member Virginia Foxx, R-N.C. “It asks taxpayers, their children, and grandchildren to pay for radical socialist proposals that will harm our economy now and obliterate economic prosperity in the future.”

Rep. Joe Burgess, R-Utah, said the school construction funding program in the bill would raise costs while providing support for a handful of schools across the nation, and would require “more sacrifice from taxpayers and forces schools to wade through more regulations from D.C.”

The Senate is set to return to legislative action the week of Sept. 13, while the House will return the week of Sept. 20.

Following are some key elements of the bill for K-12 education:

Rebuild America’s Schools Grant Program (Section 20001): This program would provide nearly $81 billion in funding from FY 2022 through FY 2024 for schools to “repair, modernize, or rebuild crumbling and outdated school buildings.” Under the grant program, $1.27 billion in funds would be made available in FY 2022 using the most recent Title I, Part A distribution formula to SEAs, which would distribute 80 percent that funding to LEAs, by Title I, Part A proportional share, for “the development and publication of a local facilities master plan to address the health, safety, education equity, enrollment diversity, environmental sustainability, and climate resiliency of the public school facilities” operated by the LEA.

The SEA would use the remaining 20 percent of funds to develop a state-level master plan for school facilities that details how the state would use funds to improve school facilities in the state, how it would competitively award grants to LEAs to carry out school improvements, and how it would provide technical assistance to LEAs.

The program would make $39.6 billion in funds available for FY 2023 and FY 2024, which would also be distributed to SEAs based on the most recent Title I, Part A proportional share. The SEA would distribute 90 percent of those funds to LEAs on a competitive basis based on grant applications, with the remaining 10 percent of funds to be used for state administration activities for the grant program.

Supplement, not supplant rules would apply to these grants.

Teacher and school principal support: The draft legislation would provide $198 million in FY 2022 for developing teacher residency programs (Section 20007), and $198 million in FY 2022 for programs that develop and support school leadership programs as described in ESEA Section 2243 (Section 20008). The legislation would also provide $297 million in FY 2022 for personnel development under IDEA, Part D.

Expanding Community Eligibility (Section 24001): The draft legislation would increase the USDA multiplier to 2.5 for SY 2022-23 through SY 2029-30 for community eligibility reimbursement for school meals. The multiplier is used to determine the reimbursement rate for students not directly certified to receive school meals, but who would be eligible for free or reduced-price school meals.

It is currently set at 1.6 percent and would revert to that rate after June 30, 2030. The draft would also establish a statewide community eligibility option for SEAs that use non-federal funds to ensure LEAs in the state provide free meals to 100 percent of enrolled students.

Charles Hendrix covers education funding and other Title I issues for LRP Publications.