Sen. Amy Klobuchar is pitching a trillion-dollar infrastructure package she said will be a top legislative priority if she wins the presidency in 2020.
The central element in the Minnesota Democratic senator’s proposal calls for leveraging $650 billion in federal funding through public-private partnerships, bond programs and clean-energy tax incentives.
While the plan includes funding for rural broadband, airports, seaports, inland waterways, green infrastructure and mass transit— along with highways and bridges— Klobuchar’s Nevada visit to J. Harold Brinley Middle School on Monday focused on a specific aspect of her infrastructure plan: school construction.
K-12 public schools represent the nation’s second-largest infrastructure sector according to the Center for American Progress. Klobuchar argues that the state of school buildings is critical to advancing student performance, classroom learning, and student health.
“I think there’s a way to actually get extra funding into Nevada schools by including schools in infrastructure,” said Klobuchar on a tour of the middle school.
Brett Booth, the principle of the middle school, said one of their major infrastructure issues was the antiquated heating and cooling system and a much-needed upgrade of the school’s plumbing system. He also said that his and many other schools had more students than the buildings were ever designed to hold, straining infrastructure.
“I think what happens is that we wait for things to fail or break. They try to have a schedule but the money is not always there,” said Booth. “We try very hard to take care of what we have.”
Half of America’s public school buildings need improvements to be considered in “good” condition, according the 2017 study. And while school building conditions are a national problem, the disrepair of America’s public schools disproportionately affects students in low-income communities that cannot raise funds for maintenance, repair, or modernization, a point Klobuchar said needs to be addressed when discussing infrastructure repair.
“You want to make sure that whatever bill you pass through for this puts a priority on students in need and areas in need because one of the great equalizers in our country is a good education system for everyone,” Klobuchar said, adding that a lack of funding in low-income schools are ultimately “bad for the whole economy.”
“If you look at it economically we have job openings right now in science, technology, engineering, and math and we need woman and we need kids of color to start going into these jobs.”
When looking at inequality and social mobility among woman and people of color, Klobuchar said there needs to be a greater push for STEAM education funding in low-income communities. Her push for school infrastructure improvement involves more dedicated funding for labs and classes specially designed to teach STEM education.
“Kids are not going to start doing better—communities of color—if they don’t start going into those areas of science, technology, engineering, and math,” Klobuchar said.
During the tour Klobuchar shared stories of her daughter’s time in public schools around Minnesota and Virginia, adding that she understands the strain of everyday classrooms.
“There hasn’t been major funding for infrastructure at all and it should include schools and some of these less glamorous projects like heating and air conditioning,” said Klobuchar.
Klobuchar says she’s a pragmatist with a history of moving education issues forward by working with politicians such as former Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) on bills to improve school safety, and serving with bipartisan caucuses to study the decline of new business creation, including education’s role.
Klobuchar said Congress could work together to increase teacher pay by matching state funding with federal dollars.
“If you get federal help on infrastructure then they can improve their heating and get new schools so you don’t have all these trailer schools. Then the state can focus more on the per-pupil (funding) and some of these other things.”
Charter schools got their start in Klobuchar’s home state of Minnesota, and on the issue of charter schools the senator advocated for strict guidelines and accountability but did not dismiss their place in the education system.
“It depends on what the charter school is, and so many have had issues with accountability, and there’s others that have been successful. But I think you need to look at what the state laws are to make sure that they work for the public schools which are still the mainstay of our education system,” Klobuchar said.
In Nevada, the State Public Charter School Authority has failed to evaluate site visits and are now facing a bill, AB462, to place a freeze on accepting applications for new charter schools until 2021.
So far, Klobuchar has raised more than $5.2 million for her presidential bid, trailing behind several presidential contenders for the Democratic nomination in 2020. Her campaign said its average online donation was $40, and that 85 percent of all contributors gave less than $100.
Facing a crowded field of 2020 presidential candidates, Klobuchar still remains relatively unknown to voters across the country. In a recent Monmouth 2020 primary poll she only had 2 percent of support among Democratic voters.