New legislation could mean better windows for many U.S. schools. The Rebuild America’s Schools Act of 2023 (RASA) would invest more than $130 billion to upgrade schools’ digital and physical infrastructure, including windows, doors and skylights. It was introduced by Rep. Robert Scott (D-Va.) and Rep. Donald Norcross (D-N.J.).
The bill would allocate $100 billion in formula funds to states for local competitive grants for school repair, renovation and construction. The bill would also provide $30 billion for qualified school infrastructure bonds, $10 billion each year from fiscal years 2023 through 2025. Funds will go to communities with the greatest financial need and encourage green construction practices, according to the bill.
“Modernizing our public school buildings and grounds so they are energy efficient, environmentally sustainable and resilient to weather and climate risk is a challenge for our time and responsibility of our time,” says Mary Filardo, executive director of the 21st Century School Fund, a non-profit organization that aims to modernize public school facilities.
The bill dictates that states prioritize qualified local educational agencies that demonstrate the greatest need for the grants. Determining factors include the current condition of doors, windows, skylights, roofs, building systems, and the median age of facilities, among others.
Some organizations say the need to upgrade existing school facilities is vital. The American Society of Civil Engineers in 2021 gave the condition of America’s 100,000 public school buildings a D+. Per the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, integrating renewable energy is one step to improve schools. DOE officials state this includes reducing air leakage through air-sealing and installing energy-efficient windows.
However, many district’s budgets fail to come close to the costs needed to upgrade schools. For example, in Detroit, where school buildings are 66 years old on average, constructing new facilities and major renovations costs an estimated $1.5 billion. Jerry Roseman, an environmental engineer for the Philadelphia Teachers Union, told NBC News in 2021 that schools in Philadelphia need $3.5 billion in immediate upgrades.
Along with physical upgrades, RASA would require states to develop comprehensive state-wide public databases on the condition of public school facilities. This includes a searchable database that contains an inventory of the infrastructure of all public school facilities, including windows and skylights.
The bill remains in committee.