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Five Ways Biden’s $4 Trillion Infrastructure Plan Could Help Kids and Schools

By Linda Jacobson | March 23, 2021

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On the heels of Congress passing the American Rescue Plan less than two weeks ago, the Biden administration is expected to soon introduce another major funding package that includes billions of dollars for schools and early childhood education.

Citing anonymous administration sources, multiple news outlets, including The New York Times and CNBC, reported Monday that roughly half the proposal would focus on domestic priorities that President Joe Biden touted during his campaign for the White House, including universal pre-K and free community college tuition. The Times reported that Biden is hoping the package will draw on longstanding bipartisan support in Washington for an infrastructure bill. But that could depend on how it’s funded. With a total price tag reportedly in the $4 trillion range and an expected call for tax increases on corporations and individuals earning at least $400,000, the plan is unlikely to receive broad support from Republicans. Biden’s advisers are expected to present the proposal to congressional leaders this week, and begin meetings with business and labor groups.

AASA, The School Superintendents Association, remains “optimistic that a proposal like this can garner the bipartisan support it deserves,” Noelle Ellerson Ng, executive director for advocacy and governance, told The 74. “After a year of the COVID pandemic, it’s clearer than ever that public schools are the backbone to our economy, a critical piece of our societal infrastructure.”

Here are five ways “Build Back Better Recovery Plan” could impact kids and schools:

1 Universal pre-K

Biden has previously proposed tripling Title I funding for low-income schools as a way to finance universal pre-K. While most state-funded programs predominantly serve 4-year-olds, Biden has said his plan would include 3-year-olds.

“I suppose it would be in the spirit of Title I in the sense of offering states matching funds for children in lower-income families,” W. Stephen Barnett, senior co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, told The 74.

The difference, he added, is that much of the existing pre-K system exists outside the public school system — in child care, nonprofit programs and even home-based centers.

2 Child care

Advocates often refer to child care as infrastructure for working families, which is essentially the title of legislation Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia, House education chair, introduced last year that limits the amount lower-income families would need to pay. Democratic Sen. Patty Murray introduced companion legislation in the Senate, but neither bill advanced.

Barnett said he would expect Biden’s package to include provisions from that bill, which aimed to boost the number of children eligible for assistance and increase pay for child care providers.

3 Child tax credit

The American Rescue Plan increased the child tax credit from $2,000 to $3,000 — $3,600 for children under 6 — and extended it to cover 17-year-olds. Experts say the increase is a major step toward addressing child poverty.

The infrastructure bill is expected to further extend the tax credit for several years. Sen. Michael Bennet, Democrat from Colorado, sponsored legislation that led to the expansion of the tax credit in the relief bill.

“Investing in our kids is critical to creating an economy that works for everyone, not just the people at the very top,” he said in an email, “and that’s why we’re doing everything we can to make these changes permanent. I’m thrilled to see growing momentum behind this very worthy goal.”

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Expanded Child Tax Credit Enshrined in Relief Bill Could Substantially Cut Poverty — and Lift Academic Performance

4 K-12 schools

The plan is expected to include $100 billion for school repairs and construction, addressing issues such as roofing, plumbing and ventilation — an issue that has stood in the way of some schools reopening during the pandemic.

Scott sponsored the Rebuild America’s Schools Act, which aims to modernize the nation’s school buildings.

“The inequities we talk about in education include facility inequities, and the data on school buildings consistently highlights how old and outdated they are,” Ellerson Ng said.

A report from the left-leaning Center for American Progress recommended that any bill also include funding for an audit of districts that lack estimates of repair costs.

Related

Biden Signs Sweeping Pandemic Relief Package, with $126 Billion for Reopening Schools, Learning Loss

5 Community college

Biden also ran on the promise of providing free community college. Since he took office, First lady Jill Biden, a long-time community college instructor, has paved the way for the proposal with talks to higher education groups.

Many existing state-level programs pay for the first two years of college through “last dollar” scholarships, making up for the amount not covered through need-based student aid programs.

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