What the infrastructure bill means for local governments and schools

After months of negotiations and infighting, the US House of Representatives finally passed a bipartisan infrastructure deal known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act on Friday. The legislation will invest $1.2 trillion into American infrastructure and the economy over the next five years.

“This historic infrastructure package stands to accelerate investments in our clean transportation infrastructure, help mitigate some of the worst impacts of climate change and accelerate new projects that will create thousands of jobs,” said California Gov. Gavin Newsom

The White House also touted the bill’s promises for the Golden State.

“The historic Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will make life better for millions of California residents, create a generation of good-paying union jobs and economic growth, and position the United States to win the 21st century,” a statement read

California will receive about $45.5 billion from the package, the largest share of any state. But at just over $1,200 per Californian, CalMatters’ Dan Walters notes that it’s comparatively small. Alaska, for instance, will see $6.7k per resident

“In a state with nearly 40 million residents, a $3 trillion economy and a $200-plus billion state budget, spending an extra $45.5 billion over five years is the proverbial drop in the bucket,” Walters writes

Around $30 billion, or two-thirds of California’s share, will go toward the state’s aging roads, highways, and bridges. Another $9.45 billion will be used to boost public transportation. Water systems and airports will get $5.5 billion.

Local government advocacy organizations, including the National Association of Counties, praised the bill. 

“Counties play a major role in America's transportation and infrastructure network, owning and operating 44 percent of public roads and 38 percent of bridges -- more than any other level of government,” NACo said. “Simultaneously, counties directly support 78 percent of public transit systems and 34 percent of airports that keep our residents connected in every corner of the country. Each year, counties invest $134 billion in the construction of infrastructure and the maintenance and operation of public works.”

The National League of Cities also applauded the bill’s passage. NLC noted the package contains the following

  • A new $5 billion “Safe Streets for All” program that directly supports local governments’ “vision zero” plans
  • $5 billion in National Infrastructure Project Assistance grants, which communities can apply for in order to fund large projects
  • $7.5 billion in RAISE grants (formerly TIGER/BUILD) and $8B in INFRA grants to rebuild critical community transportation infrastructure projects
  • $500 million in SMART Grants for transportation technology integrations
  • $2.5 billion in Electric Charging and Fueling Infrastructure competitive grants
  • $25 billion for the Airport Improvement grant program and funding for a new Airport Terminal Improvement program
  • $1 billion for the new “Reconnecting Communities” program to aid community connectivity
  • A $66 billion investment in rail with $12 billion dedicated to partnership grants for intercity rail service
  • $3 billion to fix rail and road crossing congestion
  • $500 million over 5 years for the Low-Income Housing Energy Assistance Program
  • $225 million for grants to update building energy codes
  • $8.3 billion for Bureau of Reclamation western water infrastructure
  • $500 million for the STORM Act, which will help local communities address sea levels, coastal erosion, and flooding
  • $1 billion for the FEMA Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) Program
  • $1.5 billion over five years for the EPA Brownfields program to help communities safely clean and reuse contaminated properties/land
  • $275 million in grants to support improvements to local post-consumer materials management, including municipal recycling programs and improved local waste management systems
  • $75 million for grants to states and local governments for improved recycling, recovery management and reduction
  • $42 billion for the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program
  • $1 billion for Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure, which local governments are eligible for
  • $1.3 billion for the Digital Equity Act, which will establish grants that local governments can access directly
  • Hundreds of millions of dollars to help strengthen cybersecurity protection and upgrades
  • An increase in the cap for tax-exempt highway or surface freight transfer facility bonds
  • A provision allowing local governments to issue tax-exempt bonds to finance rural broadband projects, which is especially helpful for rural communities

Schools are taking home a lot less than they hoped from the infrastructure bill. One of the items to get cut from the final deal was $100 billion for school construction and modernization. That upset many school advocates.

"In an education era when so much talk is being done about equity, this is truly, for rural school divisions and a lot of high-poverty school divisions, the biggest equity concern we have," Keith Perrigan, superintendent of Bristol County schools in Virginia, told US News & World Report. "Students who attend schools that were built in the 1930s have to compete when they go to college and into the workforce against students from affluent school divisions who are attending school and learning in a 21st century learning environment." Free community college was previously eliminated from the reconciliation bill.

Students will be aided by the expansion of broadband. The bill also provides $5 billion in new federal spending for electric and low-emissions school buses.

The next priority for Democrats will be a larger $1.75 trillion social spending bill and that is where most of the education-related items will come in. That bill includes universal pre-k for three and four-year olds; increases in college financial aid; and $390 billion to lower the cost of child care. Read more about the BBB Act here