Fixing Our Infrastructure? How About Schools?
Last year, amid the heated presidential primaries, national news outlets took a break from the contest to cover a public education issue that rarely gets attention. School teachers in Detroit, barred by state law from going on strike, staged a series of “sick outs” (where so many teachers call in sick that it forces the schools to shut down) to protest the condition of their dilapidated, underfunded schools. On one day in mid-January, 64 public schools were closed—more than half in the city—as teachers rallied together for more resources. From The New York Times and The Washington Post to CNN and Fox News, millions of Americans were confronted with jarring images of Detroit children wearing winter coats in class (because their schools lacked functional heating systems), of severely damaged facilities, of mold and leaky ceilings, of roaches and mice crawling on the floors.
These problems extend far beyond Detroit. Public school facilities—mostly ignored in discussions of the nation’s crumbling roads, bridges, ports, and highways—face an urgent infrastructure crisis of their own. Indeed, it has been getting worse for decades: In 1995, the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a report estimating that $112 billion was needed to repair and modernize the nation’s school facilities, and that as many as 28 million students attended schools deemed unhealthy, uncomfortable, and unsafe. The problem was most acute for poor students and racial minorities. In 1997, President Bill Clinton declared: “We cannot expect our children to raise themselves up in schools that are literally falling down. With the student population at an all-time high, and record numbers of school buildings falling into disrepair, this has now become a serious national concern.”
A few weeks later, however, Trump said that America’s education system is “flush with cash.” Nevertheless, supporters got to work. In February, two rookie congressmen, Donald McEachin and Dwight Evans, co-sponsored a bill, the Rehabilitation of Historic Schools Act of 2017, which was included in legislative package the executive committee of the Congressional Black Caucus handed to Trump in March.