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Investments in Transportation and Schools | American Jobs Plan

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Investments in Transportation and Schools

The third component of the American Jobs Plan is increased investment in transportation infrastructure and the repair and modernization of the nation’s school buildings and facilities.

Our public transit systems are for the most part inadequate. For example, even some major cities lack subways, adequate bus service and light rail, and inter-city passenger rail service is almost non-existent. The massive long-term investments to bring these systems into the 21st century would create hundreds of thousands of good jobs in a wide array of industries, including manufacturing, engineering, and construction. At the same time, our highway system has fallen into dangerous disrepair, with a staggering inventory of unsafe bridges and neglected repairs of road and highway surfaces. The Recovery Act provided about $50 billion worth of transportation infrastructure funding, which—while badly needed—only addressed about 6% of the five-year transportation deficit. We should immediately begin to address this public investment deficit in order to increase productivity, expand economic opportunities, and generate jobs.

We want to draw special attention to a less visible but equally vital infrastructure need: maintaining and repairing the nation’s schools. A bold plan to address the pervasive problem of deferred maintenance and repair could put nearly a quarter of a million people to work in 2010 while improving safety and education for millions of children. Investment in the repair and maintenance of the nation’s 97,000 public school buildings would boost the recovery and deliver long-term benefits to the economy.

In 1995, an extensive survey and analysis by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that America needed $113 billion ($159 billion in today’s dollars) to bring its school building inventory into good repair. Although the United States expended nearly $550 billion for public school construction from 1995 to 2007 ($770 billion in today’s dollars), most of these funds were to build new schools and additions to meet the space needs of nearly 5 million additional public school students. The 86,000 already existing school buildings were neglected. Most school districts were unable to catch up or keep up with the maintenance, repair, or capital renewals needed to support the health, safety, or educational requirements of staff and students.

A detailed analysis by the 21st Century School Fund of school district spending on maintenance, repair, and capital renewals revealed that the nation’s deferred maintenance deficit has worsened considerably since 1995. Nearly $300 billion of required maintenance in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade public school buildings has been neglected. This amount works out to an average of about $41 per square foot and $5,400 per student.

Chronic deferred maintenance, repair, and capital renewals can result in unsafe drinking water, unsafe food storage and kitchen equipment, inoperable building door locks, infection risk and asthma from exposures to mold under carpets, alarm systems beyond repair, and danger from structural problems. Gyms, pools, and libraries are closed because of leaky roofs and other maintenance problems.

Without adequate funds, school buildings are maintained as part of a “run to fail” system that neglects preventive and routine maintenance and performs upgrades and replacements of major building systems, components, and finishes only in response to crises.

Maintenance and repair work are labor intensive. Making progress on the most critical needs with an investment of $30 billion—just 10% of the most urgent deferred maintenance—could provide important, productive employment to nearly 240,000 workers in the private and public sectors. Currently, 1.5 million construction workers are unemployed, and the market for new construction remains severely depressed. Both small businesses and their employees will welcome the work.

Policy recommendation

In addition to increased investments in transportation infrastructure, we recommend the allocation of $30 billion to school districts for school modernization according to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act’s Title I formula to ensure that the money reaches every school district quickly and efficiently.

Further Reading: Investments in Transportation and Schools

Good Buildings, Better Schools: An Economic Stimulus Opportunity With Long-Term Benefits by Mary Filardo (April 29, 2008 / Briefing Paper #216)

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